Friday, August 28, 2020

After School Special: Down at the Junk Yard

Around the summer of 1974 there was a vacant lot just off of 59th Street and Halifax Avenue South that was something of an eyesore in an otherwise nice, quiet residential neighborhood. It was referred to as "the junk yard" by local residents, as junk had accumulated in the lot over the years. An old mattress, tires, wooden pallets, pieces of broken down furniture, car parts, tin cans, bottles and lots of other crap. There was even an old steel garbage can there, filled with garbage, naturally.

A wooden fence directly behind the lot was plastered with old advertising posters for local businesses, political candidates from elections past and whatnot. "Enjoy the fabulous Neuman Burger. Exclusively at Neuman's Drive-In," read one prominent billboard. Neuman's Drive-In had gone out of business a few years back when McDonald's moved into the neighborhood. "Drink Col. Davenport, the 100 proof whiskey" read another. "Vote No on Proposition 21" urged yet another. No one even remembered what Proposition 21 was. There was even an old, outdated poster of Reddy Kilowatt promoting a local utility, saying "Electricity is penny-cheap." The electric bills people were getting from that same utility by that time indicated otherwise.

A group of neighborhood boys, classmates at the nearby school, most hovering around the age of 12, adopted the junk yard as their "official headquarters." The boys were Darren Armstrong, Don Russell, Todd Edwards, Mark Erickson and his brother Chris, who was a couple years younger. With school out for the summer, these boys were spending a lot of time hanging out "down at the junk yard." It might not have been the most ideal playground, but it was a place they could call their own (or so they thought), with lots of "neat stuff" lying around. Their parents didn't object, as long as they would "be careful" and were home by suppertime.

On a warm, sunny, somewhat humid late morning in June, the five boys were hanging out there, two of them sitting on an old, rotting couch, another on an old chair and the others on a tire and a pallet, all drinking from a six-pack of Seven-Up and eating from bags of candy procured from the nearby corner store as they enjoyed their summer vacation. And what would be more appropriate to consume in a junk yard than junk food?

"I tell you, man, this is the life," Don said. "No school, no rules, and we're drinking pop, eating candy and sitting amongst all this beautiful junk. It doesn't get any better than this."

The other guys agreed. "Yeah! That's right!"

Darren spoke up, holding up his can of Seven-Up. "I have a proclamation to make. I proclaim we are the Junketeers. All for junk and junk for all!"

"Yeah! Right on!" the other boys cheered, raising their fists.

Little did the guys know that some girls they went to school with had their own designs on the junkyard. Mrs. Dorsey, a longtime community activist who lived a few blocks up on Emily Avenue South, was organizing her 12-year-old daughter Lorna and some of her friends into Mrs. Dorsey's Neighborhood Beautification Committee. Their mission was to clean up and beautify the neighborhood, especially the junk yard over on Halifax, which Mrs. Dorsey called "blight on our community."

From the committee's official headquarters in the family dining room, Mrs. Dorsey got the girls fired up in a crusade to clean up and beautify the neighborhood. Over the course of a week, they went out carrying bags and picking up litter in the streets and sidewalks. They drew up leaflets at the dining room table promoting their cause, printed them up on the Mimeograph machine Mrs. Dorsey had in the basement and handed them out all over the neighborhood, chatting with people about their mission. They even took a set of acrylic paints and painted up the old red fire hydrant on the corner of 58th and Emily in pinks and yellows and greens and purples to make it "more pretty." It was illegal, but who was going to stop them?

Then they decided to stroll on over to Halifax Avenue, where the boys were playing a game of "junk baseball" using a wooden stick for a bat, and an old sparkplug for a ball.

"Oh no, here comes Lorna and her friends," Darren said. "So what's up Fore-lorna?"

"Don't call me that," Lorna responded. “We're in my mom's neighborhood beautification committee, and we're gonna clean this place up and turn it into a community park. It will be a place of beauty for everyone to go."

"The hell you are," Don protested. "This is our junk yard!"

"It's not 'your' junk yard," Lorna retorted. "And anyway, why do you even want to play around all this junk? Somebody could get hurt here. My mom says it's unsafe, and an eyesore and an ugly blemish on the neighborhood."

Jessica chimed in. "After we get rid of all the junk, we have to paint this fence and get rid of these ugly billboards." Pointing to the Reddy Kilowatt character on one of the posters, with his electric bolt body and light bulb nose, she said, "That thing looks creepy!"

Debbie pointed to the Col. Davenport whiskey sign. "Eew! My grandpa drinks that! It makes him talk funny."

"Hey, wouldn't it be nice to have flower gardens along the fence, and maybe a fountain over here as sort of a centerpiece…" Lorna suggested.

"Oh, and maybe a little playground over here," added Nancy.

The boys finally had it. "All right, that's enough. Get out of here," Darren told them. "Go vandalize another fire hydrant. This junk yard is ours!"

"Oh, we'll be back," Lorna giggled. "Tooteloo, boys!" The girls waved to them as they walked off, laughing.

Later that afternoon, the girls had a discussion with Lorna's parents about how to proceed. "You could just bring your pickup truck, Dad, and we could all help clean up the junk and then it could be hauled away," said Lorna.

"Just hold on there," interrupted her father. "It may be a good idea, but you've got to get permission from the property owner before doing anything like this. You can't just walk on his property and haul things away. It's his stuff and his land."

Seeing the disappointment on the faces of his daughter and her friends, he said, "I'll tell you what. I will contact the owner of the property. I will tell him we will volunteer to clean up his property if he gives his permission. He might say no but he could say yes too. It couldn't hurt to ask." The girls became enthusiastic again.

The next day, after coming home from work, Mr. Dorsey announced that he talked to the property owner and he gave them permission to clean up the junk yard if they do it that weekend. The owner told Mr. Dorsey, "I was going to hire a firm to clean it up. But if your neighborhood group is willing to do it for free, have at it."

Lorna jumped around in excitement and immediately called all of her friends to tell them the news.

That Saturday morning the Dorseys and Lorna's friends arrived bright and early at the junk yard. Mr. Dorsey brought his pickup truck, junk was tossed into the back of it and several trips were made to the city dump. Passersby stopped to chat, thanking them for doing it, and people driving by honked their horns in support. When most of the junk was cleared out, they began working on the fence, pulling down or scraping off the old advertising posters, and spreading several gallons of latex paint over it, making it look new.

It wasn't until later in the afternoon that the junk yard boys arrived only to find their beloved junk yard was…gone! They made a lot of noise about it, but there wasn't anything they could do about it.

"We got permission from the property owner to clean it up," Lorna boasted. "We're gonna turn it into a community park. But we'll let you play here too, if you're nice to us."

The boys just grumbled and stormed off. Meanwhile a reporter from the neighborhood newspaper interviewed the girls about their effort and took pictures, and the article appeared on Tuesday when the weekly paper came out and was delivered to every doorstep in the neighborhood.

But the girls' ambitions to build a community park were short-lived, as they returned a few days later only to be met with construction crews in hard hats and bulldozers. As it turned out, the property owner had already intended on building a new office building there, and took advantage of their offer to clean up the property for free.

Before long, the office building was up and the junk yard forgotten about. The junk yard boys and the girls of Mrs. Dorsey's Beautification Committee set aside their differences eventually. Lorna and Darren even dated for a time in high school, and she worked as a clerk in the office building a few years later while she was attending community college.

Decades later the old neighborhood has changed a lot. The office building is still there, expanded over the years, taking out nearby houses. The community is much more diverse now than it used to be, many of the smaller houses have been replaced, and franchise stores and big retailers have come in, replacing the corner stores and service stations that used to make up the business district of the neighborhood.

Darren, Don, Lorna and the others have moved on and most of them have kids of their own. And there is no way they would ever even think of letting their own kids play by themselves as they did as kids, much less in a junk yard.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Dr. Tim and the Subliminal Seductress

Dedicated to Deanna Love Burgess.

In 1971 a pirate radio station called WUCK-FM was broadcasting from the top floor of a three-story Victorian-era house located at 2737 Halifax Avenue South that was rented and inhabited by four young men in their early to mid twenties. The radio station was strung together by a long haired, bearded 24-year-old engineering student who called himself "Doctor" Tim Treeman, with a hand-built makeshift transmitter set up in one of the third floor rooms, a studio in an adjacent room that included a hand-built mixing board, microphone, two turntables and a reel-to-reel tape deck all set up on two old wooden desks, all of this wired to a rooftop antenna that could broadcast from a radius of several blocks to a few miles, depending on conditions. The station broadcast on the 107.3 frequency and didn't interfere with any legitimate radio stations, so it stayed under the radar of the Federal Communications Commission.
Programming was mostly progressive album rock. Everything from Mott the Hoople to Frank Zappa to Quicksilver Messenger Service to the Grateful Dead was played. But program director/operations manager/disc jockey Dr. Tim didn't have any real set limits on music, as he also played obscure pop singles and B sides if he liked them, plus a little jazz and blues. Music was supplied by a local store, Karma-Mantra Records, in exchange for frequent mentions on the air. In addition to music, Dr. Tim would do a little psychedelic poetry, much of it jotted down moments before he read it on the air. There was also editorial content about such things as the Vietnam War (against), pot (for), the draft (against), the brotherhood of man (for), the Establishment press (or "pig press") (against), the Underground press (for), plus public service announcements for such services as the free clinic and suicide prevention hotline. All in all, it was a pretty professional-sounding operation.

"This is WUCK-FM, I'm Dr. Tim and I'm here to play phonograph records," he would say in his deep voice, up close to the microphone, before hitting the start button on an already cued-up record on one of the turntables. When that song played through and ended, he'd go straight to another cued-up record on the other turntable, put a different record on the first one and cue it up, and so forth. At least once every half hour came an announcement that would go something like, "Music on WUCK-FM comes courtesy of Karma-Mantra Records, 1605 Roosevelt Avenue. Karma-Mantra is now your eight-track headquarters with the widest selection of eight-track tapes, plus eight-track car stereos. Get an eight-track stereo for your car. It's what's happening, baby!"

Elsewhere in the house on Halifax Avenue, there was usually a party going on. Dr. Tim and his roommates Barry S. Wilson, Kevin Leer and Eric Carlsberg turned it into quite a psychedelic mansion with colorfully mismatched furniture on the hard-wood floors, colored lighting, posters on the walls and a constant supply of beer and booze, and maybe some decent marijuana and other substances to make guests feel at home. And if somebody brought their own stuff and wanted to share it, that was beautiful, man.

There were other voices heard on WUCK-FM besides Dr. Tim. Barry, Kevin or Eric would often go up there and do a show for a couple hours, or a houseguest who was interested in trying it out, or someone who wanted to say something to the community at large. And then there was a mysterious, sultry female voice who would take over the airwaves from time to time, calling herself Renee the Subliminal Seductress. People within listening range of WUCK-FM wondered who she was, and whether she was affecting their subconscious minds broadcasting subliminal messages. Rumors began to spread that she, in fact, was.

The mysterious Subliminal Seductress was actually Renee Swensen, the 21-year-old youngest daughter of well-known local businessman, Larry Swensen. Renee was blonde, blue-eyed and gorgeous, and in case you didn't notice she was gorgeous, she'd tell you so. She enjoyed a comfortable upper-middle class upbringing in a lake front home, although she was sent to public school. Growing up, she was close to her father and coddled by him when he was home, which usually wasn't often enough with all the business trips, conventions and long meetings he had to attend. Meanwhile, her mother was more aloof, and was the one who kept her in line.

Renee was going to college with the goal of becoming a school guidance counselor, mostly at the behest of her parents. But upon getting there and being away from home for the first time, she felt the need to rebel, at least a little bit. Her new friends in the women's dorm, mostly from well-off families, introduced her to such things as alcohol, cigarettes and parties. She was much enamored with 1920s-era art deco fashion and so she liked to wear twenties-style dresses and smoke using a cigarette holder, fancying herself more as a modern-day flapper than a contemporary hippie. She had helped her father campaign for Richard Nixon in 1968 and continued to share his Republican leanings.

It so happened she and her college girlfriends went to a party at the house on Halifax Avenue, where she met Tim Treeman, and she immediately found him alluring. He was so completely different from the kind of guy her parents envisioned for her. He had long hair, a beard and wore dark glasses. His background was blue collar, his education was from trade schools, and yet he was a deep, intelligent thinker. She listened intently as he spoke on a wide range of subjects while most everyone else there was babbling nonsense. When she saw the radio station he built, she was all the more impressed. She quickly became infatuated with him and she was coming over to see him as often as she could. Tim's roommates started referring to her as his groupie.

It didn't take long, however, for her to win them over. When she saw how little food they actually had in the house, she started bringing some over and making them dinner, and if she spent the night, she'd make breakfast. Soon, she talked the guys into letting her host a fondue party at the house, making her very popular with the crowd that hung out there. She was also rather artistic, and so she brought paints over and started painting colorful flowers, hearts and other designs on the walls, putting her feminine touch in the bachelor pad, and giving everyone something fun to look at when they were using recreational substances.

The "Subliminal Seductress" thing came about the first evening Dr. Tim had Renee in the studio with him as he did his radio program. They talked together while the records played, and when Tim put on the headphones and started speaking on the air, she continued to talk in the background and it was picked up by the microphone. In an attempt to go with the flow, Tim told his listeners, "Renee the Subliminal Seductress is here, sending good vibes into your subconscious mind."

"I'm so sorry," Renee said after Tim removed his headphones, as another record was playing.

"No, that's cool, baby," Tim told her. "It adds to the atmosphere." A bit later, he opened the microphone while a record was playing, and had her say in a soft voice at a distance, "Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex." First at an even pace, then slower, then he told her to pick it up and say it faster and faster with more breath. Then he turned off the microphone and they busted out laughing.

Before long, Renee talked him into letting her do her own radio show. Women disc jockeys were fairly uncommon then, and Dr. Tim thought of it as another "revolutionary" thing for his station to do. He advised her to speak slowly and softly to sound a little less like a bubbly teenybopper, and he let her select the music she wanted to play. Her musical tastes leaned more toward Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins than hard rock. She called herself Renee the Subliminal Seductress on the air but refrained from whispering too many messages during the music because, Tim figured, "it might get us into trouble."

"Subliminal Seductress" was intended as a joke, a social satire on allegations being made at the time that marketers were slyly slipping sex-related subliminal messages into advertising to influence the subconscious minds of unsuspecting consumers. But to some people, just the suggestion of anything subliminal was no joke and from there, things started to snowball.

A few WUCK-FM listeners were claiming the broadcasts were having a strange effect on them, causing everything from weird dreams to desires to do things they wouldn't normally do. A man who was arrested in a home invasion just a few blocks from the house on Halifax Avenue blamed it on subliminal messages being sent over the airwaves by the station. Police, who knew the man, chalked it up to his mental illness and drug use, and being unaware of the existence of WUCK-FM, assumed it was part of his hallucinations as well. But the call-letters did appear in the police report.

Then a letter to the editor appeared in the daily newspaper mentioning the call-letters and expressing outrage that an unlicensed broadcaster somewhere within city limits was corrupting the minds of unsuspecting citizens with "subliminal messaging technique," suggesting it was a communist plot.

As city officials and law enforcement slowly became aware of WUCK-FM, they started monitoring broadcasts. The station did not broadcast on a set schedule, only when Dr. Tim felt like turning on the transmitter, and when it was on, the signal could only be heard in certain parts of town, which somewhat confounded attempts by authorities to investigate. When they were able to pick up the signal, officials listened closely for any potential subliminal messaging, as well as to song lyrics and spoken commentaries on the station for any obscenities or promotion of drug use and other illegal activity, such as draft dodging. Every questionable bit of content was jotted down in a log book, along with the date and time.

A complaint was filed with the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, DC, which promised to investigate. But other priorities for the government agency took precedence over some tiny unlicensed radio station run by a bunch of hippies that wasn't causing interference with other stations. So the police, in conjunction with the city council and mayor's office, decided to take things into their own hands.

On November 16, 1971, under the pretenses of complaints of a noisy party, police raided the house on Halifax Avenue. They arrested everyone they could get their hands on, while many others ran out the back door. They made their way up to the third floor of the house and confiscated the broadcasting equipment, as well as drug paraphernalia and other items found elsewhere in the house as "evidence." TV film crews were there and the raid made the top of the local Action News and Eyewitness News broadcasts.

Tim, Barry, Kevin, Eric and Renee were taken downtown, booked and charged with a number of alleged crimes, including disorderly conduct, conspiracy to provoke unrest, conspiracy to promote unlawful activity, possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia, and "broadcasting obscenities in violation of city code, using subliminal messaging technique."

The raid became an even bigger news story when it came out that the daughter of Larry and Lois Svensen had been among those arrested, and that she was, in fact, "Renee the Subliminal Seductress." People who knew the Svensens shook their heads in pity. "And she seemed like such a nice girl, too," they said.

The raid stirred a tremendous amount of controversy locally and on a national scale, as the story got picked up by the Associated Press, and thus made it into newspapers across the country, and film footage from the local affiliates appeared on the ABC Evening News, and on the NBC newsmagazine program "First Tuesday."

Ultimately, most of the charges were dropped, at least those pertaining to the radio station. Tim Treeman got his equipment back, but by that time he had received a warning letter from the Federal Communications Commission threatening fines if the station returned to the air, not because of the content of broadcasts, but because the agency's investigation found that it was an illegal operation, operating without a license and at higher power than would be allotted for such a station.

By 1972 the house on Halifax Avenue was vacated and the guys all went their own ways. Renee returned to a more "normal" life, graduated from college and became a school guidance counselor, until she realized she could make a lot more money with far less stress as a commercial voice talent. Her experience as a disc jockey at the underground radio station paid off quite comfortably in the end.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Love, Crystal

Theme song: "The Dangerous Type" by the Cars.

Crystal worked part time at the Kinko's Copy Center. Back in the 1990s, stores with self-service photocopy machines were quite useful to those of us who didn’t have such fancy equipment in our home offices as scanners attached to personal computers. So I was a regular customer there, photocopying and enlarging pictures, copying and pasting stuff by hand for various projects and printing it up.

Crystal was always very helpful and friendly. She had an infectious smile and a great laugh, and she seemed to appreciate my sense of humor. She was twenty years old at the time I met her. She had a pretty easy-going personality, she was petite, with green eyes and thick, sandy-blonde hair with bangs, often times tied back in an elastic ponytail holder that was otherwise worn on her wrist, leaving her hair cascading around her shoulders.

As we were getting to know each other, I found I was starting to like her. When she wasn’t too busy with customers I’d wind up hanging around and chatting with her. Soon, I was finding excuses to do something at Kinko’s as often as I could, and would occasionally be disappointed if she wasn’t there because it was her day off.

As it turned out, she sort of liked me too. Over time we began meeting at a nearby Starbuck's coffee shop after her shift. It so happened she lived right by me, in a house with her brother David and sister-in-law Annie. Before long I found myself going to her house after work, on the evenings that she wasn’t working.

When we exchanged phone numbers, we would sometimes wind up talking on the phone for hours. Sometimes it was about the crazy people she would encounter at her work but often times it was about our lives’ ideals and dreams.

“My mom and step-dad threw me out of the house when I was eighteen,” she told me. “My step-dad is such a prick. He said I was a spoiled little princess who needed to be thrown out on my royal little ass. And my mom isn’t much better. She just basically agrees with whatever he says. So they made arrangements to move me in with my brother and his wife, and then they move to Florida! Just to make it hard for me to move back in with them. I mean, it was totally unfair. And my real dad hasn’t been in the picture at all since I was, like, eight.”

I was a few years older and as I got to know her a little more, she did strike me as immature at times. She complained a lot about her brother David and his wife Annie, who owned the house in which she lived. They were in their thirties, career people, having her as a border. I thought she had a good situation there, her own room, token rent payments, reign of the house and free meals. But she always found something to complain about. "They just want to control me. They expect me to pay them money out of my paycheck. They tell me to do this. They won't let me do that." Her complaints went on and on and on.

Overall, though, she just seemed like an all-around nice girl. She didn’t smoke, and she hated being around smokers. She’d sip a cocktail or a wine cooler but otherwise wasn’t much of a drinker. And she said she never had a serious boyfriend because, “I don’t need the drama. I get enough drama from David and Annie, and my parents, and my girlfriends and their boyfriends.”

“What I like about you,” she told me, “is you’re not all about drama. You’re more level-headed and intelligent than basically anyone I know.”

David and Annie were always cordial when I came over. David would offer me a can of beer and Annie would offer a snack from the kitchen.

“It’s good to see Crystal finally has a boyfriend,” David remarked to me the first time I came over.

“He’s just a friend, not a boyfriend,” Crystal retorted.

“No, it’s okay. Take her off our hands. We won’t mind,” David said to me with a laugh, but I sensed he might not have entirely been joking.

I was never really romantically involved with Crystal. I was kind of smitten with her, but we were mostly just pals. I might get a hug or a kiss on the cheek from her but that was as far as it went. I'd go to her house and have a few beers or we'd watch TV together. I'd reluctantly sit through Melrose Place, which took several beers to make that tolerable, but we both liked The Simpsons. There wasn't that much age difference between us but it sometimes seemed we were a generation apart. I liked watching news and intelligent talk shows and she liked watching that prime-time crap. She had no clue who Dick Cavett or Tom Snyder even were. I was also a big Frank Zappa head but she couldn't understand anything beyond top-10 hits. But we connected in a lot of other ways and that was a neat thing.

She knew I was a writer and we often sat in her room, door closed, and she'd show me notebooks of poetry and stories she was working on, asking my opinion. It amused me what a stereotypical "girls' room" she had, complete with a canopy bed and stuffed animals.

After an hour or two of sitting in her room, we'd occasionally walk to a nearby bagel place for something to eat. The closest I came to spending a night with her was when David and Annie were out of town for the weekend and we stayed up, watched late night movies and made omelets and Bloody Marys at one a.m.

In between visits we’d talk on the phone, and every so often she would send me a card in the mail, usually with a floral design on the cover and a quaint, hand-written message on the inside, such as, “Just wanted to let ya know I’m thinking of you!!! Love, Crystal,” with a smiley face drawn next to her name. I could even faintly smell her perfume on these cards.

Eventually Crystal's relationship with her brother and sister-in-law hit the skids. She could be a spoiled brat sometimes and they finally got fed up and told her to move out by the end of the month.

She called me, very angry and teary, when that happened. "How can they do this to me," she whined. "I'm family and they're betraying me. I'm going to kill them. I swear I'm going to kill them!"

I told her to "relax, take it easy. There are plenty of places you can move to and you won't have to deal with them anymore."

"I won't have to deal with them if I kill them."

I began to get irritated with her. "Will you quit with that, Crystal. You're being ridiculous."

"Fine!" she snapped.

After an intense few seconds, we moved the conversation to other things.

A couple days later she invited me over. David and Annie were there so I assumed she got things patched up with them. We sat in the living room and talked and things seemed normal when she abruptly said "Hold on, I gotta do something."

Annie was in the kitchen getting something to eat. Crystal came up behind her with this big hammer, the kind used to bust up rocks when BAM! She slammed it against Annie's head. Annie fell forward, she was out cold.

It was so surreal, I felt like I was only watching a movie or something. My first thought was simply "Wow, she's really going through with it."

David heard the commotion and came running downstairs in investigate when BAM! She knocked him down as well.

I was now stunned, not knowing what to do, not sure if I would be next and certainly afraid to touch anything. She just smiled as she looked at me and said, "Well, I suppose I might as well make sure they're really dead." She casually put down the hammer and pulled a couple of rags from the drawer in the kitchen, tying one around her brother's neck tight enough to strangle him. She went to do the same thing to Annie.

"Oh ick! She's bleeding!" She lifted Annie's head to fit the noose around her. "Eeew! She's bleeding through her nose. Gross!" The blood actually bothered her more than her own violent method of murder. It was surreal.

She then went upstairs and came back down with her diary and some notebooks. "I need to burn these things," she said, putting them in the fireplace and lighting them up.

Finally I said, "I better go. This is getting too bizarre for me."

"Okay. Maybe I'll call you this weekend. Bye, Sweetie."

I couldn't believe how casual she was acting, as if nothing major happened. I used my shirt to handle the doorknob on the way out. I wanted my fingerprints on as few things as possible.

I got home and I was in such a daze. I figured the right thing to do would be to call the police but I didn't want to snitch on a friend. She was, after all, always nice to me. But I realized that I was a witness to murder and it was my duty to come forward. I could be considered a suspect and she could even try to pin it on me.

But my friend actually spared me of that. She turned herself in and she eventually pled guilty. She later told me she cared about me enough to not want me involved in the mess. So why in the hell did she commit her crime in front of me then?!

Crystal was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. There is no death penalty here, though there was no shortage of pundits and other media blowhards calling for it when this case came to light. I couldn't bear to see her, this pretty, thinking, feeling, warm human being strapped down, stripped of every bit of dignity as she's killed by government officials in an institutionalized setting.

I haven't seen Crystal since she went to prison. They sent her up to this remote maximum security place that is hard to get to, although we do write to each other regularly. She signs her letters with a heart and smile face. How cute for a cold-blooded murderer.

She recently sent me a photo of her in her skirted prison uniform and that great smile. She signed it, "Love, Crystal," with a smiley face.

God, I miss her.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Big Eddie and the Ice Cream Man

(F-bombs, crude language)

It was Saturday, early afternoon at the city park. Big Eddie, his girlfriend Lisa and five other friends were having a cookout in one of the picnic areas, grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, and drinking beer, while a portable radio on the picnic table blared an FM album rock station. There were other gatherings of families and such elsewhere in the park, with kids playing. A good time was being had by all.

Then, from the distance, the chimes of an ice cream truck were heard. The music, playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” over and over got louder as the ice cream truck slowly moved in to the picnic area. It stopped right next to where Big Eddie and his pals were partying. Kids from all over ran to the truck with quarters and dollar bills given to them by their parents, ready for frozen treats.

Big Eddie was annoyed with the intrusion. He was particularly annoyed with the amplified chime music playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” over and over.

After about ten minutes, Eddie started saying to his friends, loud enough to be heard, “God, when is that asshole gonna leave? That stupid music is starting to piss me off. I can’t even hear the fucking radio, and they’re playing ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ one of my favorite fucking tunes!”

The ice cream man, standing outside the truck and puffing on a stogie as he served his young customers, reached in and turned the music up in response to Eddie’s griping.

“I’ve had enough of this shit,” Big Eddie said, slamming his fist on the picnic table. He walked right up to the ice cream man and said, “Hey! Fuck you!”

“Fuck YOU!” the ice cream man said back.

“Fuck you!” said Big Eddie.

“Fuck you!” said the ice cream man.

The two men went back and forth until Big Eddie’s girlfriend Lisa finally approached.

“Guys, can you please just stop this,” she said. “There are children around!”

“Well he’s pissing me off with that fucking stupid music,” Big Eddie said. “De-de-de-de-de-de-de, over and over…”

“I’ve got just as much right to be here as you, asshole,” the ice cream man retorted.

“Fuck you,” Big Eddie shot back.

“Eddie, just calm down,” Lisa said to him. “Go back to the picnic table, have another beer, smoke another bowl, do whatever, but please stop yelling and swearing around all these kids. This is not cool. Not cool at all.”

Eddie let out a loud sign. “Ohh-kay!”

“Love you, sweetie,” Lisa told him as she reached up to peck him on the lips. “I’ll be with you in a sec.” Then she turned her indignation toward the ice cream man.

“And you’re just as bad as he is,” she told him. “You’re the ice cream man. You’ve got children around, children who look up to you, and all you can say is ‘fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,’ just like him.”

“Yeah. So?” the ice cream man responded as he puffed his cigar toward her, sending smoke into her face.

“And you shouldn’t be smoking around the children either! What kind of example are you setting?” she added, pointing her finger at him.

“I don’t give a flying fuck,” the ice cream man told her. “I only care about selling fucking ice cream bars! And if you’re not going to buy one, get the fuck out of my face!”

Lisa just sighed and shook her head. “I don’t believe this. This is, like, so pathetic.” She took Eddie’s arm and started walking back to the picnic area.

“Goodbye, lady,” the ice cream man said while waving her away. “Take your asshole boyfriend with you!”

“Fuck you!” Eddie yelled back at him.

“Fuck you!” the ice cream man responded.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Going New Wave

When the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, there was a noticeable change in the culture, the way people talked and the way they acted. There was a new phony optimism and shallowness that I didn't have much use for. I might have been living in the eighties but I didn't have to participate in it. Everyone else might have been going new wave, but I was sticking to my good ol’ rock 'n' roll. Or so I thought.

I had some friends who were in a local bar band, originally called the Druggists. They had formed in 1979 doing straightforward rock 'n' roll covers of songs by groups such as Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Grand Funk Railroad, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and the Knack. They were loud and somewhat good, and they mostly played in the small dives and private parties around the city. The drunker the audience, the better they sounded.

My good friend Dave Wiedemann was the lead vocalist and bassist for the Druggists, with Mike Rupert on lead guitar and vocals, Bob Martin on rhythm guitar and Ed Williston on drums and percussion.

Dave joined in 1980, replacing a couple other guys, and immediately took the band over with some bold new ideas. He wanted to get the band into better venues, get more publicity, and do some original material, so they wouldn't be strictly a "cover" band. I had some artistic ability, a few media connections and was a budding writer with a whole notebook of potential ideas for original rock songs, so Dave asked me to be the "official" publicist and lyricist for the band. If nothing else I was at least affordable, and Dave knew how to stroke my ego.

"We're gonna be big, and you're gonna help us get there, dude," he told me.

My role as "publicist" consisted mostly of hand-drawing posters and leaflets for the band's upcoming appearances (this was before the era of home computers), mass-photocopying them and riding around town on my bike, stapling them to telephone poles and community bulletin boards. I would get the band's appearances listed in the weekly "alternative" newspapers, and I would write up press releases and send them out with press packets that included the band's bio, upcoming appearances and a photo of the guys in the band, with their scraggly hair and beards, standing, arms folded, with pissed-off looks on their faces. The posters and publicity materials included the slogan, "WE ARE THE DRUGGISTS, AND WE ROCK!" Occasionally someone would cross out "rock" and write in "suck" on the posters, but I'd just tear that one down and put up a new one when it happened.

Having the opportunity to write songs for the band was especially thrilling. I didn't write music, but I'd jot down lyrics that I thought would make good, hard rock songs with a particular tune in mind. I'd submit the ideas to Dave, he'd work out something with the other guys and come up with something that was dynamite. Dave would belt out my lyrics with gusto, and I took pride in the fact that I did not write love lyrics or anything conventional, and that’s what Dave and the other guys wanted.

One of the band's favorite songs that I wrote was called "I Just Don't Care No More." They played this at just about every show they did, and Dave cranked it out with aggressive vocals.

Well I'm tired of listening to
Anything that comes from you
From this day there is no way
I'll listen to anything you say

So you say that your life's so bad
I just don't care no more
You tell me that you feel so sad
I just don't care no more
You want someone to tell your troubles to
I just don't care no more
You come to me when you feel blue

I won't be there for you when you cry
I just don't care no more
I'm sure you know the reason why
I just don't care no more
You always depress the shit out of me
I just don't care no more
And from your troubles I want to break free

Or there was this classic. Heavy metal lyrics from a parental perspective:

You're not a child, you're a demon from hell
There's not a doctor or cure that could make you well
We've put up with you, now we're drawing the line
You piece of shit, you're no son of mine!

You're a disgrace to our family name
To your mother and I, you've brought only shame
In our society you'll never advance
We should have aborted you when we had the chance!

And then there was Dave's personal favorite, and a popular one with the club audiences, the unforgettable, hard rockin' party song, "Beast Man":

There's a creature out there you can't escape
Sometimes he's a man, sometimes he's an ape

Not too many things give him a thrill
But he loves to hunt and he loves to kill

Killing everything is his desire
Looks like evolution has gone haywire

In the first couple of years of the 1980s, hanging out with that band was a blast. The Druggists were getting better gigs, performing as an opening act at the better nightclubs or as a fill-in when a main act couldn't show up, while continuing to perform in bars and at private parties. The audiences were generally receptive. Occasionally there would be some obnoxious drunk causing problems, but there were never any hostile audiences that I saw.

The band was still performing classic rock covers, with my songs thrown in, and it was especially gratifying for me to see people really jamming out to something I had written. Dave was good about crediting me and introducing me to people, but I was quite fine with staying in the background and watching it all from my own comfort zone.


In the spring of 1982, Dave informed me he and the guys were working in a studio and were putting the finishing touches on an album that would have twelve cuts, including six of my songs. He told me I’d be given writer’s credit and would receive a share of the royalties. Finally, my work for these guys would actually pay off.

He asked me for suggestions on what to call the new LP. I thought for a moment and suggested the title “Fuck ‘em.” It was a phrase Dave used a lot, as well as me, and it expressed the attitude of the band.

Dave’s immediate response was “Yeah! Cool!” But then after thinking about it he said, “I don’t know, man. Stores aren’t going to stock anything with ‘fuck’ in the title.” I guess he had a point.

So then I suggested, “Why don’t you call the LP “Nuke ‘em.” On the front cover, show a picture of the band, with a big ass fuckin’ nuclear explosion mushroom cloud in the background!” This was, after all, at the height of the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union.

Dave loved that idea, had a professional graphic artist work with my sketches to create the album cover, and in June 1982, “THE DRUGGISTS—NUKE ‘EM” came out on vinyl and cassette tape, with “I Just Don’t Care No More” as the opening track. A couple of FM rock stations even played that track and another one I wrote. It was at least a year before I actually saw a royalty check, and it wasn’t much, but I was happy to get it.

The album also included a couple of new tracks I wrote. One was called “Adolescent Therapy Session.” It started out with a distorted guitar riff, followed by slamming drums. Then Dave’s searing vocals came in.

Well you are only seventeen
But you’re the WORST CASE we’ve ever seen!
You’re going out and stealing cars
You’re drinking in cross town bars, good god!
You pick up a police woman decoy
You’re parents say, “You are such a naughty boy!
“We tried to raise you right from the start
“Now you’re breaking our heart!”

The other one took a different turn, and to everyone’s surprise it became something of a local hit. It was a ballad called “Terrance,” sung by Dave from the perspective of a high school cad.

My name is Terrance
And I’m really chic
I’m so cute you could pinch my cheek
I’m on the honor roll and the football team
When the girls see me, they all scream (backing vocals: Oh, TERRANCE!)

My name is Terrance
And I’m the high school jock
My big, hunk body is solid rock
I’ve got a tall blond cheerleader by my side
I’m gonna take her home and take her for a ride
Oh, I’m the all-American boy
To all the girls I provide such joy
Cause I’m a gorgeous son of a bitch
I’ll never have to work ‘cause I’m good looking and rich…

I was stunned to find out "Terrance" became a favorite at the local clubs, and couples were actually dancing close together to it when it was played. And it did get some radio play as well, but with a couple of words bleeped out. Those came up in the last verse of the song.

And last night I got such a thrill
When I [bleep]-ed some [bleep] by the name of Jill…

You can't accuse me of being incapable of writing about romance!


As the decade progressed, things were changing. Bar audiences and bar owners were looking for something different than simple loud rock 'n' roll performed by four or five guys in long hair, beards, mustaches and shabby clothes. It was now the era of the music video, where looks mattered more. So-called new wave rock and urban contemporary dance music performed by guys and girls in wildly fashionable hairdos and slick, colorful outfits was becoming the big thing that people were looking for. New bands were popping up and snatching up gigs that could have been had by the Druggists. And what kind of a name was the Druggists anyway? It sounded too much like a throwback to hippie-era drug culture. We were now in the era of Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign. People still did drugs, but it was now considered wrong to promote it openly.

In March 1983, Dave threw us all for a loop. He called a meeting at the old warehouse where the band practiced, and told me to be there too. He had some big news, and publicity is going to be more important than ever, he said.

With me, Mike, Bob, Ed and a few others there, Dave made his big announcement. "I hired a keyboardist. His name is Howie Horkelson (that actually wasn’t his real name) and he's great. We're going New Wave, man. We got to get with the Eighties. We got to think about making music videos and getting on MTV. We can't go on being some fucking sixties throwbacks."

The guys were all looking at each other, saying, "What the fuck?"

He turned to me and said, "Dude, I want you to make posters and put them up all over town saying we've gone new wave. I want you to write up press releases and send them everywhere. Newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, everywhere. Oh, and the band's not going to be called the Druggists anymore. From now on we're Illegal Smiles. Not the Illegal Smiles, just Illegal Smiles."

The other guys in the band were not so gung-ho on that idea, least of all me. I said, "What the fuck do you want to do that for? The eighties suck!" The other guys were saying, "Yeah, no shit."

Dave said, "Look, guys, I'm not saying we can't play rock anymore. But we're living in the eighties, and if we're going to get out of playing the dives and get booked at some of the hotter clubs, we've got to get with what's current, what's trendy. People don't want to hear covers of Led Zeppelin and BTO songs all the time anymore."

"So what about the stuff I'm writing for the band," I asked.

"Keep doing what you're doing," he said. "What you write can easily be adapted to new wave."

Dave had a talent for being persuasive as much as any good salesman and the guys all came around to his side of the issue, however reluctantly. And so the Druggists became Illegal Smiles and I drew up some new posters with the group's new name in an eighties pop art style and emphasis on "New Wave." Meanwhile, getting into the spirit, I wrote my first "new wave" song for the band. Dave loved it, and had new keyboardist Howie sing lead on it.

God bless this beautiful day!
God bless the American way!
Well there's a great big smile
On every face I see
Everyone's a-living in harmony
Walkin' down the street you'll havta agree
America is the place to be!

Yes you can tell that America is the place to be
The way the surgeon performs his surgery
The way the drunkard drinks his burgundy
The way the radical speaks subversively…

Howie was actually good at what he did, the band played well with the new sound, and Illegal Smiles did start to draw bigger and more enthusiastic crowds than they did when they were the Druggists. In addition to what I was writing for them, the band was covering tracks from groups such as DEVO, the Clash and the Sex Pistols.

Then in the fall of 1984, Dave decided to make another big change. He brought in an aspiring singer named Tracy Gerwitz. Tracy was an aerobics instructor who wanted to be the next Madonna, and she tried hard to look just like her idol, with big permed hair, big earrings, heavy makeup, and a crucifix around her neck, even though she was Jewish. "It's just a fashion accessory to me," she'd say.

She had the Eighties Attitude big time. She was there because Dave was dating her, and I'm sure the other guys in the band were banging her as well. Not me, though. We tolerated each other, but that was about it.

She was nice to me in a phony sort of way. She'd say, "I want you to write songs for me but it's got to be my style." Or, "If you're going to make posters for the band be sure to mention me. Please? You know how to spell my name, right?"

She wasn't too crazy about the songs I wrote for the band either. She went through my notebooks with the lyrics I had jotted down and said, "Uh, I can't believe some of this stuff you write! Your words are so cynical, so angry at everything. Can't you write a love song?"

"Fuck that," I said. "I don't write puss songs."

"Love songs are not puss songs," she insisted. "Have you never been in love before? Don't you know what it's like?"

I said, "Fuck no."

She rolled her eyes and sighed exaggeratingly. "What-EVER!" Then she complained to Dave about me. "Why do you hang around with negative people? Do you know how it affects your psyche?"

Dave was hot and cold with Tracy. One day he'd be gushing about what a great lady she was, the next day he'd be calling her a "psycho bitch." But she had her clutches in him and in the entire band, and that was that.

Before long a new group photo was taken with Tracy up front and center, with the guys in the background. Soon Ed left the group (ostensibly to get married), and then Bob left. A couple of new guys came in to replace them, and I actually stuck around out of loyalty to Dave. Finally, in the spring of 1985, when the band started being billed as "Illegal Smiles Featuring Tracy Gerwitz," I knew it was pretty much over, and I too split the scene, moving on to other things. And pretty soon there was no more Illegal Smiles, just "singing sensation Tracy Gerwitz" getting booked at all the hot clubs. Dave finally realized he was just a stepping stone for her.

All these years later, Dave is still a friend of mine. He stops by occasionally for a beer and a chat. We talk about the good old days and he still gripes about how Tracy screwed him over. Then he gets to the point of his visit.

"Dude, you got $100 you can borrow me? I'll pay you back tomorrow, I promise."

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue

(Caution: F-bombs, crude language)

It was the summer of 1973, a particularly hot, humid day. The Delaney family was having their annual family get-together. While music played from the living room stereo, all the doors and windows were wide open, people filled the house, the front and back yards. Adults were drinking and socializing and kids were playing and chasing one another.

Tom Delaney and his cousin Terry Stone, meanwhile, were up in the attic, sitting on the floor and listening to a David Bowie album on a record player they brought up there. The two teenagers were getting themselves high sniffing model airplane glue. The boys made models together when they were younger and had since enjoyed the pleasant effects of glue.

"Wow. This is good shit," said the long, blond-haired Tom.

Droopy-eyed Terry took another sniff from the tube. "Yeah, it's great. I'm floatin' now!"

With Bowie rockin' and glue fumes penetrating their brains, they found profound things to talk about.

"Man you shoulda seen this chick I saw at the drug store the other day," said Tom. "She had tits like you wouldn't believe. They were mega-tits, man!"

"Shit, I woulda love to see that," replied Terry. "But I did see this chick on TV the other day with tits that practically stuck right out of her fuckin' shirt! I bet she weren't even wearing no bra!"

"No foolin'? Oh wow."

They continued to listen to the David Bowie album, talk about "tits" and sniff more glue when a young visitor came up and caught the two in action.

"Hi guys!" said the chirpy 13-year-old Diane, a cousin of the two boys.

Terry had the tube of glue up to his nose and was just a little stunned by the invasion. "The hell you doin' here?"

"I just heard some music and talking up here and I wanted to see what was going on."

"Well this ain't no place for kids," said 15-year-old Tom. "Just us big guys can be up here."

Diane noticed the lead tube in Terry's hand. "You're sniffing glue?!" she blurted out loudly and began to laugh.

"SHHH! Not so loud!"

Diane continued to laugh. "I can't believe it. You guys are hiding all the way up here just to sniff glue!"

The guys did not appreciate being laughed at by a precocious 13-year-old girl.  "Well what do you expect us to be doin'? Smokin' pot?" replied Tom.

"That's a lot better than that shit," Diane retorted.

The boys were at first irritated by their younger cousin but then they began to notice something about her. Her body was beginning to take shape, for one thing, and her clothing did much to emphasize it. She wore a sleeveless shirt with a decal depicting hearts, flowers and clouds, along with very short shorts, revealing her tanned legs and white sandals, showing off her painted toenails. With her soft brown hair framing her maturing face, Diane suddenly didn't seem to be the pesky kid that Tom and Terry had known her to be.

Diane noticed there were several empty Shasta soda-pop cans of various flavors around the boys. "Is that all you guys are drinking is pop?" she asked with mild amusement.

"Well, they won't let us have a beer," Tom replied.

"I could get a whole six-pack up here without anybody noticing," she bragged.

"Yeah, I'd like to see you try!" said Terry.

"Okay, I will!" she said with a smirk as she headed downstairs where the party continued to roll on.

"Man, is that chick for real?" asked Terry. Tom simply shrugged his shoulders and took another whiff of glue.

"She is getting some nice looking tits," he said.

A few minutes later, Diane returned with the promised six-pack.

"How the hell did'ja do that?" asked Tom.

"It was easy. A cinch," she said with a giggle.

The three each grabbed a can and as they were lifting and tearing off the ring tabs, Diane said, "Okay, before we even take a sip, let's have a chug-a-lug contest!"

"Oh my god," blurted Tom. The boys could not believe how wild this girl really was.

"On your mark, get set, GO!" called out Diane as the three downed the contents of the cans. While the two boys had to continuously drink and swallow, with foam sometimes shooting from their mouths, Diane was able to suck down almost half the contents at once, although her brown eyes seemed to pop out of her face as she did this.

"Shit! Where'd you learn to guzzle like that?" asked Terry as they took a rest.

I have experience," replied the 13-year-old with a smile. "I can drink wine or beer without any problem at all. I've even smoked pot before, which is a hell of a lot better than sniffing glue, I can tell you that!"

The truth was she had only tried pot once at age 12, and then it made her hack and cough to the point of tears, although she figured at this point she could try it again since she was beginning to smoke cigarettes without too much problem.

"You wanna try it again?" asked Diane, as the three still had about half a can of beer left. The boys agreed and once again, Diane sucked down the remaining contents of her can before the boys could get in four swallows.

"I guess I win!" exclaimed Diane with a big smile as she set down her empty can. Tom and Terry could hardly stand up, loaded with so much beer and glue vapors.

The David Bowie album on the record player had ended. "Want me to flip it over?" asked Diane.

"Go for it," replied Tom as she walked up, turned the record over and set the needle on the first song. She walked back over and sat right between the two boys, making things rather cozy.

There were three cans of beer left and they each had one, this time drinking them slowly. As the album played, Diane chattered away like the pubescent girl she was, while Tom and Terry sat, almost speechless.

When they finished their beers, Diane said, "Let's go downstairs and join the party." She stood up and the boys followed, now more intoxicated than they had ever been before.

Throughout the house and outside as well, the boys followed Diane as she mingled with the relatives. She had hugs and kisses for all of them and they thought she was just the sweetest little girl. And they didn't even notice the beer on her breath.

The boys, meanwhile, had a terrible case of  "the munchies" and before long grabbed a big bag of Frito's corn chips off the large table outside and chomped on them as though their life depended on it. When Diane saw them, she reached into the bag and took a handful.

Among everyone, as usual, was old Uncle Mel and his infamous camera. Every year at the family get-together, Uncle Mel was there snapping pictures wherever he turned and he seemed to have an endless supply of film.

"Hi Uncle Mel!" chirped Diane as she waved.

"Hello, Diane. You sure are looking lovely. Let me take a picture of yuh." As usual, Mel was wearing a loud suit and was wasted.

"I have my favorite cousins, Tom and Terry with me. You can take a picture of all three of us."

"I'd be delighted," said Mel. He set up his camera while Diane stood directly in front of the two boys, who towered over her. She gave a big smile as the two just stood there, mesmerized by Mel's colorful polyester suit.

Mel held the camera to his face. "Ready. . .say cheese. . ."

Just as he snapped the picture, Diane grabbed the two boys in a certain place which gave them a rather shocked look as she continued to smile. The picture was shot above the waist so nobody really saw what happened.

"Thanks a million," said Mel as he staggered off to take a picture of the half-eaten potato salad.

Tom and Terry continued to follow their cousin around as she charmed everyone with her cuteness until her mother finally said "Diane, honey, it's time for us to go."

"Okay, Mom!" she said as she joined her parents and they all left the party.

A few minutes later, Tom and Terry looked at each other.

"What hit us just now?" asked Terry.

"I don't know, man, I don't know."

The next summer there was another family gathering at the Delaney's. Tom and Terry were anxious to see their cousin again, to see how hot she was now. And sure enough she did show up, with her parents and her boyfriend, a soon-to-be high school senior who played on the football team.

"Well fuck this shit," said Tom as the two boys went back upstairs to the attic, played a Led Zeppelin album and yes, sniffed some more glue.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Harold's Blue Ribbon Monument

When Harold Nelson died of a stroke in 1998 at the age of 75, his love of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer died with him.

"I'm just glad to be finally rid of that ugly thing," said his widow Dorothy, not of her late husband, but of the giant Pabst Blue Ribbon "No Opener Needed" replica beer can on her property along a county road in western Wisconsin, as a hired demolition crew smashed it into rubble. Harold built the giant beer can in 1967 and insisted it stay right where it is, a constant bone of contention with his wife for thirty years.

Harold himself built and painted the meticulously-detailed giant can, made of concrete with a steel casing and standing at 16 feet tall and seven feet wide, and it became something of a local landmark. The slogan "No Opener Needed" appeared directly above the Blue Ribbon logo, just as it did on the actual Pabst cans circa 1967 when tab-tops replaced the older style cans that required a can opener.

The structure stood up surprisingly well over three decades of Midwest weather extremes. There were some streaks of rust on its metal casing, especially around the rivets, and a little fading in its spectacular red, white and blue color scheme, but Harold liked to say that's what gave it character. It was sometimes mistaken for a silo, but it wasn't attached to a barn, it never contained silage, and Harold said he didn't have the patience to farm his land anyway.

The can became something of a tourist attraction as people would drive by and sometimes stop to take a look at the thing. Harold was often asked to take a picture of someone who wanted to pose with it, and he always obliged. Sometimes he'd even offer a full can of Pabst Blue Ribbon to a visitor who wanted to stay for a few minutes and chat. He got a small royalty on sales of a postcard of the giant beer can, and even Pabst took notice, publishing a feature about it in a company newsletter. But with all the fame and small fortune, Dorothy still hated the thing.

"The only reason why people are coming to look at it is because they think you're a fool, and that embarrasses me," she always told him. She could not conceive that people actually liked the structure and admired Harold for creating it. The idea of that did not make sense to her.

Harold and Dorothy were married for nearly fifty years but they didn't really like each other. Harold enjoyed the simple pleasures in life, such as hunting, fishing, beer drinking and watching football on TV. Dorothy didn't like any of those things and was basically unhappy. Nothing was ever right for her. Dorothy complained frequently and loudly, and Harold learned to ignore her, doing pretty much whatever he wanted. Still, he was home every night, and every day as well after he retired, and he never strayed on her.

Harold was a fan of Pabst Blue Ribbon from the very start. It was the first beer he tried as a teenager with some friends back in the late 1930s, not all that long after Prohibition was repealed. He saved one of the cans, and when Pabst came out with a new can over the years, he saved one of those.

Dorothy, on the other hand, did not like beer. But she did like white wine, so much so she sometimes drank it by the jug. Then, with Harold and Dorothy both loaded on their favorite drinks, they would get into petty arguments, until one or both of them finally passed out.


Harold Nelson and Dorothy Fishbeck met in 1946 after he returned home from the war and she was working as a waitress at Fleck's Roadside Diner. As a regular customer, Harold asked her out several times, and finally, she agreed to see a movie with him. She went out with him a couple more times and after the third date, she became pregnant. They decided to do the "right thing" and get married quietly in a judge's chambers before the baby was born.

Coming from a nice, churchgoing Lutheran family, Dorothy regretted ever going to bed with Harold, let alone out of wedlock. She also regretted not having the extravagant wedding she had dreamed of since she was a little girl. But she also believed that once you're married that's it, there's no getting out of it except under extreme circumstances. As long as he never abused her and remained faithful, she was committed to him, even if she ultimately resented it.

In 1947 Dorothy gave birth to a daughter, Cynthia, and in subsequent years the couple had three more children, two boys and another girl. Harold found work in the construction business, using skills he learned in the Second World War, to help build the new post-war America. He was a working stiff who wore a hard hat and a white T shirt on the job, but he wasn't necessarily the stereotypical gruff, distant father. He doted over his kids while it was Dorothy who was more of the stern disciplinarian, frequently accusing Harold of spoiling the children.

The Nelsons lived in a small town in Wisconsin near the Minnesota border until 1965 when Harold had the opportunity to buy several acres of cheap land along the county road, where the construction worker by trade could build a house, garage, workshop, storage shed and a giant Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can close enough to the road to be seen.

They would eventually have seven grandchildren, beginning with Cynthia's son Tommy, born in 1968. Dorothy wasn't nearly as stern a disciplinarian to the grandchildren as she was as a mother, but she had her quirks that her grandkids found a little odd. She wouldn't buy Kool-Aid, for instance, because she said, she couldn't stand "that hideous grin" on the packages. She also wouldn't go with when Harold brought the kids to the circus or the fair because she found the clowns too traumatizing.


Of all of the grandchildren, Harold was closest to Tommy. Tommy's father, Cynthia's husband, wasn't around much so Harold became the father figure and best pal to Tommy. Harold taught him about fishing and hunting and football and beer. They had many man-to-man talks about navigating through life and dealing with the problems that come up. Taped to the walls in his workshop, Harold had drawings Tommy made for him over the years, including depictions of him or the two of them together, and of the giant beer can.

As Tommy got older, they remained close. When he was in his late teens and driving, he'd occasionally bring a few of his friends to meet Harold and see the giant beer can, and have a rap session over a couple of beers with Harold in his workshop. Grandma Dorothy wasn't too happy about having "all those hooligans" hanging around, but Harold would tell her, "They're Tommy's friends and they're good, decent kids. Stop being such a killjoy, woman."

Tommy was 30 when Harold passed away. Dorothy had said for years regarding the Pabst Blue Ribbon monument, "When Harold dies, that ugly thing is getting torn down," and indeed, one of the first things she did was contact a business that could do the job. Tommy begged and pleaded with her not to do it, and fans of the giant beer can from around the country wrote letters asking her to preserve it. All of them went straight in the trash. Tommy was able to get Harold's Pabst memorabilia collection and the drawings he made for him as a kid before Dorothy trashed those.

Dorothy finally passed away in 2010 at age 86, twelve years after Harold's death. Beige, hulking condominiums now sit on the old Nelson property, for middle class people wanting to live "in the country," even though it really isn't "the country" anymore.

A recent visitor, who was trying to pinpoint where the giant Pabst can once stood, was told by a security guard to leave immediately or be arrested. The security guard had no clue what the visitor was talking about as he tried explaining why he was there. The security guard just chalked it up to his colleagues as "some loony tune."