Monday, November 16, 2020

Ho Ho He Ha Ha Shake


   A favorite treat of children of the 1950s and ’60s that today’s kids will never get to enjoy is the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake. With a colorful clown face on the special wax-coated paper cups in which it was served, the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake was sold at the concession stands at fairs, carnivals and amusement parks. A little more expensive than a regular soft drink, the shakes sold for 25 cents for a regular size cup, 35 cents for a large. 

   The Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake was not a milk shake. It was a whipped non-dairy treat made from pork lard mixed with water to make it more fluid, sugar and sodium cyclamate to make it super-duper sweet, dashes of vanilla and nutmeg for flavoring, unpronounceable chemicals for preservative and more flavoring, and yellowish food coloring so it wouldn’t look so disgusting. 

   Advertising placards featured the silly-looking clown, and claimed, “It’s so rich, so thick, so dog-gone dee-licious, it will make you say Ho Ho He Ha Ha!” A large plastic clown head, lighted from the inside, revolved around and around on top of the mixing and dispensing machine from behind the counter at the stands where it was sold. 

   When you got one of these things, you could feel the heaviness, like getting a cup of wet cement or something. And it felt like cement when it hit your gut as well. The pork lard would coat your entire mouth and throat and if you tried to wash it down with a cold drink, it would just harden the greasy residue. Hot water was more effective but on a summer day at the fair, who’d want to drink that? I also heard that the mixing and dispensing machines were a real bitch to clean out.

   Many kids learned the hard way going on a ride after consuming a Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake wasn’t such a good idea. My cousin Cindy, at about eight years old, ended up puking one up after riding the Tilt-A-Whirl at the amusement park.

   The Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake was created in 1953 by Frank Bollock, manager of a hog slaughterhouse, who was trying to find new ways to market the surplus lard on hand. After trying a few different experiments with the animal fat, he put some in the new electric blender he had just purchased for his wife, added a cup of water, a cup of sugar, dashes of vanilla and nutmeg and blended it into a nice, creamy drink which he served to his children for desert.  

   He brought his concoction to an associate at Consolidated Confections Company, which immediately looked at ways to market the stuff. Here the recipe was changed a bit, with chemicals added for preservative, flavor and color, and to mask an unpleasant smell, and the fairly new synthetic sweetener sodium cyclamate was blended along with the sugar to make it even more sweet and tasty, without adding extra calories. 

   As for the packaging and marketing, it was decided that a clown would be a more appropriate mascot than say, a pig. While they wouldn’t go out of their way to make it a secret that the shakes were made from pork lard, they didn’t really want to draw attention to it either. A clown, on the other hand would be a colorful, fun attention-getting device, and in those days anyway, clowns were among the favorite characters of children.

   Silly laughter is associated with silly clowns and so the name Ho Ho He Ha Ha was decided on for this highly sweetened non-dairy shake. Initially the marketers at Consolidated Confections considered calling it the Har Dee Har Har shake, but they feared a potential lawsuit from Jackie Gleason.

   By the mid to late 1950s, the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake was being sold as a cold treat at carnivals, fairs, amusement parks and summertime events all over the country. It was a natural for circuses, with the clown theme. By the early 1960s, several new discount department stores began selling Ho Ho He Ha Ha shakes at their in-store snack bars, making it the exclusive retail store outlet for the treats. 

  The shakes were anything but healthy, they were junk food in the highest degree. But in those days, Americans as a whole weren’t nearly as health-conscious, and not nearly as anal about protecting their children from every little risk. It was a special treat you bought for your kid at fun events, and if your kid got sick, well that’s childhood. 

   The first major blow to the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake came in 1969 when the Food and Drug Administration banned the use of cyclamate due to an alleged, though not proven cancer-causing risk. The shakes didn’t quite taste the same with just sugar, nor did they when saccharin, then not yet federally regulated, was blended in.

    Meanwhile, consumer advocates began targeting the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake as being especially unhealthy for children with all the fat, cholesterol, sugar, artificial sweeteners and chemicals. Articles condemning the shakes appeared in medical journals and in women’s magazines, and a campaign was underway to ban them.

   Bowing to the public pressure, Consolidated Confections Company announced in 1973 that they would withdraw and discontinue the sale and marketing of the Ho Ho He Ha Ha shake by 1975. The mixing and dispensing machines with the lighted revolving clown head quickly disappeared from concession stands, as did the clown-face paper cups, virtually unchanged in design since the 1950s.

   Pork lard shakes are no longer available anywhere and there is little public demand for them. However, the Ho Ho He Ha Ha clown still brings tinges of nostalgia to many baby boomers, and occasionally the old paper cups turn up on eBay, usually drawing in several bids, as well as the advertising placards. Much more rare are the plastic clown heads, as most of them were destroyed by the company when the machines were withdrawn, but a few have turned up, often going for well over a thousand dollars. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Kathy and the Kid

 

Audio book version can be found here

  It was March 1986. Kathy Johnson had just moved in to a small but comfortable unit in the Manor Royale apartment complex. At age 22, her marriage to "Mister Wonderful" had fallen apart. When she couldn't take the drinking, verbal abuse, controlling and running around by her husband anymore, she packed as much as she could into her small car and left, getting away as far as she could. They had no children, so it was easy enough to break away.

     As she slowly got settled in, she had lots of mixed emotions. She was now completely alone. She didn't miss her estranged husband too much, and she liked being able to finally do things for herself and make her own decisions, but she was also lonely. She didn't really know anybody in the city she moved to, and she wasn't ready to start dating again. She landed a second shift job at a factory doing light assembly and packing boxes, which kept the bills paid, but it was a rather dark, depressing, restrictive work environment where the people weren't particularly friendly. She wasn't Kathy, she was Employee #2281.

     She would get home at around 11:30 at night, watch some late night TV for a few hours, go to bed, get up again the next day and if she didn't have to go grocery shopping or run some other errand, she'd sit in her apartment, watch TV, sip black coffee, eat, and smoke cigarettes. Lots of them. Then, later in the day, go back to work at her less than thrilling job.

     There were a lot of kids at the Manor Royale apartments where she lived. Some were from in-tact families but a lot of them were from divorced or otherwise single parent households. Like 12-year-old Jacob Petersen, who lived with his mother a couple floors down.

     Technically he was living with his mother but in the grand scheme of things he was fending for himself because she wasn't home very often. She got up early for work and came home late, and she had a social life too. But Jacob was rather mature and responsible for his age, and could get up, get dressed and get to school on time, and then come home and heat up his own frozen dinners in the oven. He had a few friends that he sometimes hung out with after school, and for the most part they stayed out of trouble. A big motivation for Jacob to stay out of trouble was to prove to his mother he didn't need a stinkin' babysitter at age 12.

     Kathy started to notice Jacob a lot when summer came, and school was out. Sometimes he and his friends were coming and going in and out of each other's apartments or roaming up and down the halls or doing something outside, but a lot of times Jacob was by himself, especially during the day on weekdays, because his friends had other activities going on.

     Kathy knew nothing about the kid, but she wondered about him. She sensed he was neglected and maybe as lonely as she was. Seeing him around stirred some maternal feelings in her, thinking about how nice it would be to have a son or daughter and how she would be a much more loving, nurturing parent to this kid than his own mother apparently was. She found herself thinking about him while engaged in her tedious, redundant tasks at work.

     Finally, when she saw him late one morning hitch-hiking on Highway 612 about a half-mile from the apartments, she hit her breaks.

     "Get in here! Now!" she ordered.

     "Okay," the kid said with a relieved smile as he opened the door and went into the front passenger seat. But Kathy only pulled up a little further to the side of the road while traffic zoomed by.

     "Just what do you think you're doing," she demanded.

     "I'm just trying to get home,” Jacob said. “I live at the Manor Royale apartments. They're just over…"

     "I know where you live,” Kathy interrupted. “I see you around there all the time. Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to hitch-hike? Any idea?! You could be hit by a car, or, you don't know who's going to pick you up, or where they're going to take you or what they might do to you. You could be kidnapped, you could be slaughtered or who knows what could happen to you!" She pulled a Benson & Hedges cigarette from her purse and lit up.

     "Sorry!" the kid said.

     Kathy took the cigarette from her mouth and exhaled. "Oh, you're sorry. Is that all you have to say? If you were my kid you'd be getting a spanking from me and I don't care how old you are!"

     She shifted the car into drive and got back on the highway. "So, is your mom home right now? Or do you even have a mom?" Kathy's voice dripped with sarcasm as she asked this.

     "My mom is working. She won't be home 'til at least six."

     "Oh, of course. Why am I not surprised?"

     After about a minute, Kathy finally started to calm down. "I'm Kathy, by the way. What is your name?"

     "Jacob."

     "Have you had lunch yet, Jacob?"

     "Not really…"

     "I'll tell you what. I'll make you lunch. Do you like grilled cheese?"

     "Sure."

     "Good. So do I."

     It was coming up on noon when Kathy brought Jacob up to her apartment. She fixed him and herself a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk, and while he wasn't real talkative, she got him to open up a little.

     "So are your parents divorced?" she asked him.

     "Yeah, for about three years. I was nine, I guess. I don't see my dad much at all anymore, and my mom works and goes out a lot and stuff. But I can take care of myself," he told her.

     "Well, I'm sure divorce can be pretty hard on a kid,” she replied. My parents are still together but I'm in the process of getting a divorce. I'm glad I don't have kids because of the circumstances, but I also wish I had kids, if that makes any sense?"

     "So why are you getting divorced?"

      "My husband is such a turd," she laughed. "He would tell me he loves me so much, then he would come home drunk and start screaming at me about what a stupid bitch I am, how I don't satisfy his desires as much as I should and I'm just so lucky he married me. Then he'd go sleep with some co-worker or pick up some chicky-babe in a bar. He could be mean, he could be sarcastic, but he could also be charming, and I fell for it. Well I hope he's happy now!"

     She finished her glass of milk and lit a cigarette. "He also got me smoking. I never smoked until after I started dating him when I was 19. I was always one of the good girls in high school who didn’t smoke."

     All Jacob could say was "Wow." She had gone from talking to him like a child when she picked him up, to talking to him as if he were another adult. But she was desperate for someone to talk to and confide in, and Jacob was pretty mature for his age.

     Jacob in turn told her about his life, his friends, and his mother who wasn't around all that much, either working or going out and sometimes coming home drunk. He then said facetiously, "I wonder if my mom has met your husband."

     Kathy laughed. "Well she can have him! I would gladly trade him for you. If you were my kid, I would put you first in my life, and love you, and take care of you and be there for you."

     They continued to talk until Kathy glanced at the clock on the wall. "Oh my God! I'm going to have to get ready for work right now or I'm going to be late. Thank you so much for talking to me, Jacob. I've really enjoyed this."

     She walked him to the door. "I work evenings but I'm usually home during the day. So if you want somebody to talk to, I'm here for you." She hugged him, and then looked him in the eye. "And don't you dare ever hitch-hike again!"

     It would be another week before Jacob took Kathy up in her offer to visit her, but they did say hi to each other when they saw each other in and around the apartment complex. On one occasion, she greeted Jacob while he was hanging with a couple of his friends.

     "Stop by and see me some time," Kathy said as she walked off.

     "Who was that?" his stunned friend Joel asked. "She's nice!"

     "Oh, just the lady in 308," Jacob replied.

     The next day, a little after 10:30 in the morning, Jacob came up to 308. Kathy invited him in and gave him a hug, and a kiss on the forehead. They sat in the living room and talked, and then Jacob asked with some trepidation, "Can I sit with you, Kathy?"

     Kathy's eyes widened. "Well of course." She patted the spot next to her on the couch. "Come over here."

     Jacob found that Kathy was willing to give him something he was lacking in his life and didn't realize he craved, and that was physical affection. His mother was not a particularly affectionate person and tended to push him away when he was younger and tried to get close to her. Kathy was very touchy-feely and was craving it herself.

     As summer rolled on, Kathy and Jacob were spending more time together. She would make him lunch, or at least a snack, and they would spend a few hours together in the air-conditioned comfort of her apartment unit during the hot, humid summer. They cuddled together on the couch, sometimes rocking back and forth like a mother and baby, or he would lay his head in her lap while she read a paperback or watched TV or talked on the phone, with her free hand stroking his chest. Sometimes she’d lean over and give him a kiss.

     When she would talk on the phone to her mother or friends from the old neighborhood while Jacob was with her, they commented that she sounded more relaxed and contented than she had been for a long time. She would just say that things were getting better and she was meeting new friends, without elaborating.

     Then around late August, Kathy casually mentioned to Jacob that her soon-to-be-ex husband got her number and was starting to call her. "He wants to have dinner with me," she said. "I'm not really crazy about it. But I don't know. Maybe I should just meet up with him once to hash things out as the divorce becomes final."

     Jacob thought that sounded a little fishy, but as negative as she was about her husband, he assumed that would indeed be the extent of it.

     Then, after a while, Kathy didn't seem to be at home as much. Jacob would knock on her door or call her only to get no answer, or if she did answer, she never had much time.

     Finally one day, she invited him over. He came to her apartment to find much of her belongings boxed up. It was obvious she was getting ready to move.

     "I'm getting back together with my husband," she said enthusiastically. "Isn't that great?"

     Jacob was stunned. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Why? I thought you said your husband was a big turd. That he was mean to you and liked to get drunk…"

     "He promised he would change for me because he really does love me, and that's all that matters. I have to change for him too, that's the deal, but he said he loves me!"

     "Well…" Jacob said, and then paused to collect his thoughts. "Can I have your new number so we can still talk? Or your address so we can write to each other. I love to write letters…"

     "No, I don't think that's going to work out," she told him. "I mentioned you to him, and he wasn't too happy about you coming over, even if you are only 12. He says it's another one of my dumb ideas that I need to stop, and I guess he's sort of right."

     Jacob felt like he had just been punched in the gut. "I'm a dumb idea?!"

     "I didn't say that, Jacob."

     "Going back to your husband is a dumb idea, Kathy. A stupid idea! Why are you doing this?"

     "Well I'm sorry you feel that way," Kathy responded. She lit a cigarette as she tried to mask her own feelings. "Anyway, I'm going to have to let you go now. I need to finish packing," she said.

     She walked him to the door and gave him a brisk hug. "Bye, Jacob. It's been fun." She pushed him out the door and locked it behind him.

     A few days later, the unit where Kathy dwelled for six months became available for rent again, even though she had to pay a rather high fee for breaking her lease. Her renewed relationship with her husband only lasted a few months until she moved out again, and moved in with a new boyfriend. A few years later, with a different boyfriend, she became pregnant and nine months later gave birth to a son. She named him Jacob.

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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQicIvb_9pc


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
Well I JUST DON'T CARE NO MORE!
NO I JUST DON'T CARE NO MORE!
NO I JUST DON'T CARE NO MORE!

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
'Cause I JUST DON'T CARE NO MORE
NO I JUST DON'T CARE NO MORE…

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 ONE SICK BOY!

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!
You're ONE SICK BOY!

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
BEAST MAN!

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

Killing everything is his desire
Looks like evolution has gone haywire
BEAST MAN…

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!”
And they SCREAM…WHAT THE HELL’S THE MATTER WITH YOU?!

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."