I’m Sorry Mrs. Jackson(I Am For Real)

Didn’t we all have that friend in childhood that stayed in childhood? You know, it was usually a kid that lived next door or maybe two houses down from you. He wasn’t going to be a lifetime friend but was good for summer shenanigans; birthday parties, occasional sleepovers that involved movie rentals, frozen pizzas, and sneaking in music videos his mom and dad wouldn’t allow. He may have had an older sister that was a year older than you, while you were two years older than him. You may have played the adventures of Huck Finn with them and was excited to be Tom Sawyer to her Becky Thatcher.

Okay, so I may be talking specifically about my childhood friend.

The Jackson family moved into the house next door to us when I was 4 or 5 years old. They moved to our neck of the Midwest from Jacksonville, Florida. The dad was an engineer type,  both at a day job and with aspirations of being an actual train engineer(the entire time I knew them he was working on building an actual train with train tracks.) The mom was a stay-at-home mom that was kind of hands off in the parenting department. She was pleasant enough, but she always seemed to be ready for some kind of emotional break(I guess when your husband is in the garage most of the time fantasizing about being Thomas The Tank Engine you’ll have that.) Then there were the kids. Alisa(pronounced “Uhh-Lisa”) and Nathan. I started out as friends with Alisa. We’d swing together in their backyard and apparently sing “It’s A Small World” in an annoyingly loud manner. We’d also dig up dirt and make large holes of soupy mud. It was fun, man. Oh, and yes there was the occasional game of Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. I would occasionally go to church with them, too. Mostly in the hopes of lunch being served at the Jackson abode after the service. In the summer I’d go to vacation bible school with the Jackson kids. This was, not surprisingly, not a great time. I was raised by beer-drinking, rock and roll-listening parents that did not go to church. I think me going to church with the neighbors was more just a break for my mom than me getting anything from the bible thumpers.

By the time I was 7 or 8 I was just hanging out with Nathan. He was sort of a weird kid, but he was readily available to hang out and do stupid stuff with. How was he weird? Well, he once told me that he had to get a shot because he picked his nose and ate it too much. He once hit a neighbor girl in the head with an actual power drill on purpose(not plugged in or with a bit in it, thank Jebus.) When he was much younger he had a penchant for biting. I once saw him bite his sister in the back so hard that he bit through her shirt and left bloody teeth marks on her. I was once a victim of the Nathan iron jaw, too. After telling him I was going home to watch afternoon cartoons he laid into my chest with a gnaw like Vlad the Impaler.

But despite his peculiarities and apparent taste for human flesh, we got along pretty well. Though there was a two year age difference, we tended to enjoy the same things. Maybe it was more that he liked whatever I liked which made things easy. When I liked Star Wars, so did he. When I got into Transformers and GI Joe, Nathan did too. In the summer I showed him the ways of billiards in our basement and badminton in our backyard. We both enjoyed a good game of war in the woods and had pretty decent imaginations. When I’d spend the night at his house, we’d stay up late in the family den and watch Friday Night Videos and MTV(they had cable, we didn’t.) For a snack we’d eat several pieces of toast with strawberry jam.

The Jackson household was very religious overall(southern Baptists), while mine wasn’t(Midwestern Heathens.) Our households still generally got along, with Mr. Jackson coming over every now and then to borrow some wrench or caliper that measured in the metric system that my dad didn’t have. My mom would run into Mrs. Jackson going out to get the mail, with Mrs. Jackson looking like a southern Jackie O in big, black round sunglasses and a scarf. Nathan’s dad was also a musician. There was always a nylon-string classical guitar lying around, as well as an actual vinyl LP that Mr. Jackson played on(there was a black and white photo of him on the back cover standing in front of a mic.) He liked a lot of the 60s folk stuff(Peter Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, and the like), but it was gospel that tripped his trigger. I think their mom sighed a lot and pined for the southern plantations of her childhood.

Things went okay, that is until I got into music. AC/DC, Ratt, Twisted Sister, Van Halen, and Motley Crue were just a few that I got into when toys were traded in for the PMRCs hit list. Of course, Nathan liked it too, since I did. This was not cool with the ma and pa Jackson. They saw it as the devil’s music, and in turn saw me doing the devil’s bidding. At first they took it in stride, but then they began the propaganda game. I can remember going over to their house one night to stay and the parents sat Nathan and I down in the den to play us a videotape. It was one of those Riefenstahl-like propaganda videos where an ominous voiceover narrates a fable about how rock and roll will kill you. They went so far as to show a guy mindlessly nodding his head as Ozzy Osbourne’s “Suicide Solution” is playing. As the song plays, the idiot in the video slowly raises a pistol to his head as if he’s going to blow his brains out. It was obviously the work of Satan through Ozzy Osbourne. If they really wanted to stick to the narrative, the guy should’ve been raising a glass of Jack Daniels to his mouth instead.

Anyways, this war of attrition between me and the Jackson family continued on for years. With each new metal band and “Explicit Lyrics : Parental Advisory” sticker the chasm grew wider between me and the neighbors. I still hung out with Nathan, though. But as we got older it was apparent Nathan was getting odder as time went on. Was it my fault, as his parents thought? I don’t know. He got plenty of hazing when he’d visit my house. Being kind of a rube, he was susceptible to being messed with. My older brother and his friends loved messing with Nathan. I can remember one summer evening we were heading over to my house to listen to some contraband Shout At The Devil. As soon as we stepped inside my brother and two of his buddies were in the living room and dropped the needle on The Beatles’ “Birthday”. They all started singing it to Nathan, congratulating him on his birthday. It wasn’t Nathan’s birthday, and they knew that. I knew that, too. But by Nathan’s reaction I’m not sure he knew it. He just stood there with a weird smile on his face, really trying to remember when his birthday was. There was also my brother and I talking Nathan into trying these delicious new snacks our mom bought at the store. Loli-pups. Yes, they were dog treats. They looked like a cookie version of a Mentos. Little bite-size, multi-colored dog treats that our mini schnauzer Klaus loved. In order to sell the charade my brother and I had to eat one as well(in retrospect, that wasn’t one of our best gags.)

Nathan and I hung out through my time in middle school. We’d play Nintendo at his house, watch music videos, and listen to the evil rock music when his parents weren’t around. I still had fun hanging out, but I was getting older and had other friends to hang out with on the weekends. I dated a couple girls that Nathan’s older sister was friends with, so that made trips next door sort of weird, too. Eventually I was banned from the Jackson abode because after spending the night one Saturday evening I got up early and went home before I could go to church with them. His parents likened that to spitting in the eye of baby Jesus and so I was no longer welcomed.

A year or so later I was invited to go with Nathan and his uncle Glen to Chicago for an evening. I’d met Glen over the years on a couple occasions. He was the complete opposite of Nathan’s dad. He was funny, boisterous, and had a personality. He was the southern gentleman through and through. Glen wanted to take Nathan to the big city and asked him if he wanted to bring a friend. I’m sure his parents cringed when he mentioned my name, but they relented(probably because of Glen.) It was a fun trip. We went to the top of the Sears Tower, ate at a really nice Italian restaurant, and the next morning I had a cup of coffee for the first time(I was 15 I think.) Glen nearly got us in a wreck on the way home, but hey it can’t all be fun times and balloon animals.

That was the last time I really hung out with Nathan or the Jacksons. I hit my sophomore year in high school and met new friends, really got into guitar playing and progressive rock(and girls), while Nathan kind of disappeared into the ether of just the “neighbor”. I hadn’t talked to him for about 5 years when one day while my brother and I were at Video World renting some NES games I see these two chuckling yokels standing by the CDs. One of them turns to me and I see it’s Nathan. He was taller and more gaunt looking. The other kid was chubby and had the appearance of the Unabomber on a Clearasil high. The conversation we had was short but stuck with me.

Me: Hey, how’s it going?

Nathan: Okay.(chuckles oddly)

Me: What have you been up to?

Nathan: Have you heard of a band called Tool?

Me: Yeah I have.

Nathan: They have a song where they talk about sticking a knife up someone’s ass. It’s pretty wild.

Me: Yeah.

Older Brother: Well, we gotta go. Got games to play.

And that was that. That was the last time I ever saw Nathan. My mom, however, saw him a year or two later. She was taking trash out to the trash can on the side of the house when she noticed someone at one of the bedroom windows of the Jackson house trying to get in. My mom said she yelled at them and when the guy turned around she saw it was Nathan. He told my mom that he lost his key and that he was trying to get in to borrow their VCR so he could watch some movies. My mom told him he should just wait for his parents to get home. Nathan agreed and commenced with some small talk. She said he was acting strange, like he was on something. Twitchy, nervous, and he looked even more gaunt than usual. We eventually found out he had gotten in with some strange folks and pulled a Syd Barrett by burning his brain up with chemicals. Nathan ended up in a halfway house.

Then that was it. The Jacksons moved away. To where? I don’t know. I don’t even know if they took their acid-burnt son with them. I think about him occasionally, and hope he worked his stuff out. I also wonder if his parents blamed me for his path to degradation and drug use. More than likely yes. It probably wasn’t an overbearingly religious upbringing or the spankings or the mollycoddling or the fact that their mom would often hide from sunlight for days at a time or that they were raised partially by a sweet but racist great auntie. I’m sure it was Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil.

And maybe those Lolipups.

Either way, I’m sorry Mrs. Jackson. I am for real.

For Those About To Rock(We’ll Pray For You)

I’d never realized I wanted to be a roadie for a Christian rock band. That is, until I was one.

At the age of 12 going on 13 I started taking guitar lessons. It was something I’d wanted to do for at least three years prior. Well, I’d wanted a guitar, just not take lessons. You see, thanks to anxiousness and a general paranoia I was convinced any person I’d go to for lessons would be a child abductor or murderer and I’d never even get to “Every Good Boy Does Fine” before I was in a chest freezer. So until I would agree to take lessons there was no guitar in my future. But listening to Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits in the family car over and over again and hearing the searing groove of “Last Child” convinced me to take a chance on a creepy guy in an apartment over on Argonne Road. Turned out he wasn’t creepy at all. More of a folksy guy. He was an accountant named Jim by day and by night a divorced guy with a daughter living in another state. He wasn’t into AC/DC like me, but he loved the Beatles and bluegrass, so he taught me the basics for a couple years, until my freshman year when he told me he couldn’t show me anymore. He hooked me up with a redneck with a mullet named Terry that gave lessons in a small room at Loy’s Music Shop. Not sure how Jim knew Terry, but this was the creepy dude I’d feared back when I was 9. At the 2nd lesson I asked Terry if he played slide guitar and his response was “Yeah! With my dick! Ha!” This would be my last lesson with Terry(though before it was all said and done he did show me how to play “Tequila Sunrise”, so there’s that.) So it seemed I had hit a roadblock in my journey to be the next Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Perry, or Joe Satriani. Then, like the hand of the rock and roll God anointed me personally, my mom got a call from my uncle John. He asked if we were still looking for a guitar teacher, as he knew a guy named Tim taking on new students.

My uncle John was a local rock and roll legend around northeast Indiana. He was in a band back in the mid-70s called Magi. They were a 5-pc outfit that was out of Nappanee, Indiana(google it…Amish country.) My uncle was the lead singer and one of the songwriters. The band modeled themselves after Boston’s own Aerosmith, with touches of early Foghat and Steppenwolf thrown in. My future guitar teacher Tim knew my uncle through a Magi reunion that had transpired a few years earlier, as Tim himself was a local rock legend. He was in the Midwest metal outfit Rox Sedan(and Victrola before that.) Where Magi took their queues from early 70s cock rock, Tim was influenced by the NWOBHM, as well as grittier, early 70s blues bands and ZZ Top. Rox Sedan wore the metal gear; leather vests, studded wristbands, and used power chords effectively and efficiently. But in the mid-80s a friend of Tim’s was murdered in a drug deal gone bad(Tim may have been the one to find him), so while he’d always been a believer this incident convinced him to become a reborn Christian. He stopped rock and roll, stopped drugs, cut his hair, and pretty much crawled inside of a bible for a couple years. Eventually he eased up on the Christian restrictions and started listening to old Steely Dan and ZZ Top records again, grew his hair out, and picked up his guitar. He became even better of a player out of the rock band game, honing his skills to rival even those pinheaded guitar noodlers signed to various record labels. To make extra money while his wife worked full-time at a local grocery store, Tim began giving guitar lessons in the late 80s. Mainly to wannabe guitar noodlers with aspirations of being the next Jimmy Page, Steve Vai, or Eddie Van Winkle.

Enter my brother and I.

After it was established that we were in fact looking for a new guitar teacher a meeting was set at Tim’s rural rock and roll headquarters. It was a trailer in the middle of several acres surrounded by corn fields and woods. My uncle John picked up myself and my brother Chris on a cold winter Thursday night and drove us to what felt like a future murder scene as we took the secluded dirt drive to this dimly lit aluminum can in the middle of nowhere. All my trepidation melted away when Tim answered the door. Outgoing, welcoming, and funny as hell, Tim made the Hubner boys feel right at home. My uncle and Tim talked for a bit about “the old days”, which Tim had no problem talking about. He even pulled out an old cassette tape with his old band Rox Sedan playing live in some dive bar around 1987. They were covering Georgia Satellites’ hit song about telling lies and keep your hands to yourself. Tim was on guitar and singing and he reminded me of Axl Rose. Not long after we brought up Guns n Roses and Tim said he couldn’t stand Rose’s voice.

Anyways, after all the chit chat we headed back to Tim’s practice room so he could play a little for us(you know, so we knew he could really play.) Boy oh boy, could he play. From the moment he hit the strings on this white St. Blues electric guitar my jaw hit the floor. All I listened to at this point was guys playing at lightning speed, so I sorta knew when I heard good playing. Between the speed picking, hammer-ons, and whammy work I thought I’d walked into the practice room of a genius. With a great sense of humor and what seemed like a pretty intellectually bright guy I sort of wanted to be adopted by the guy.

After a few minutes of blowing our minds with a beat up Marshall and an off-brand electric, it was quickly decided that my brother and I would become Tim’s newest guitar students. Every Thursday night at 6:40pm we would show up at Tim’s place and for 25-30 minutes each we’d go back to the little practice room and learn about scales, modes, reading guitar transcriptions, and Tim would teach us songs we’d want to learn. We’d also laugh continuously as Tim was a funny, jovial guy. Religion would come up now and then, but I never felt like he was trying to push it on me. We’d record our lessons on cassette, and occasionally I’d ask Tim to play something and do some whammy bar work(I had a Fender Squier Strat with a fixed tremolo, where Tim had the Floyd Rose-licensed locking trem.) I loved dive bombs and the weird string abuse you could do with the locking trem, and Tim knew all the tricks. He’d comply and I’d go home and listen to the tape and be in awe that this guy was MY guitar teacher.

How I went from a guy that played his guitar with his penis to a dude that rivaled some of the guys signed to Shrapnel Records was beyond me. Within a year, one of my best friends began taking bass lessons from Tim. Friday night sleepovers in 10th grade would lead to Saturday morning drives to the wilds of Syracuse, Indiana for guitar lessons from Tim. Whatever we brought him he was eager to learn and teach us. He’d tell us about Steely Dan, 70s soul, the beauty of Billy Gibbons’ guitar tone, and the genius of early Woody Allen and Federico Fellini(Tim even gave us a copy of Fellini Satyricon and La Dolce Vita to borrow.) My younger cousin joined the ranks of the Tim student club as well and he began coming over(lessons had changed from Thursdays to Saturday mornings.) We’d gone from the tiny practice room in his trailer to Tim’s mom and dad’s basement(who lived right behind Tim on the other side of the woods)while Tim was renovating the trailer and adding a studio space, to an abandoned church down the road from him.

All through this Tim started writing songs again. His constant playing as a teacher had gotten him to a pretty stellar level as musician. His Christian belief put a fire in him that pushed him to want to talk about issues that meant a lot to his belief and to him as a human being. This led to Tim starting Lovewar, his first post-reborn band that would launch Tim into the upper echelon of Christian metal(he toured the world with Lovewar, so I guess that would be upper echelon.)

As time went on I became more like a friend/little brother to Tim. I can remember him coming by the house one summer night in his little beater hatchback with a demo tape of some songs he wanted to share with me. We sat out in the car and he played me these pretty rocking tunes he’d recorded on a 4-track cassette recorder with a drum machine, bass, and guitar. His voice got better, too. It was still a little gravelly, but it worked. He had better pitch control. And the guitar was stellar. He soon added a guy to play bass with him, which meant that he could take the songs on the road. As far as drums were concerned, he had those programmed into an Alesis drum machine, so for live settings they could run the Alesis right into the house PA and they were good to go. Tim had already recorded a cassette EP(which I had actually drawn and designed the cover for, thank you very much.) He was getting back into the game.

Lovewar cassette, with artwork designed by a 16-year old J Hub

In the summer of 1990 myself and my pal Jason(who was the bass student of Tim’s) were hanging out playing badminton, watching Degrassi Junior High, and listening to lots of Rush, King’s X, and of course practicing our instruments diligently. One day I get a call from Tim asking if Jason and I would like to come along for one of Lovewar’s first shows and help set up and tear down equipment. This sounded like a completely awesome thing to do as there were no job prospects and no girlfriends at the time, so Jason and I said sure. I think there was a value meal thrown in to sweeten the deal as well.

We made our way to Fort Wayne in Tim’s beat up truck with amps, guitar, lighting, and God knows what else to a Christian rock club. Now, it’s been nearly 30 years so the name of this club eludes me, as does its exact location in the Fort. I can say there was a Sunbeam bread plant near its location, and a block away was a strip club called Deja vu. Behind it was a gay night club called The Other Side. The name of this club we went to was something like “Alternative” or “Alternatives”. So apparently the owner was trying to prove a point, save souls, or generally “make a difference” to the lost souls of Fort Wayne. We arrived and the owner met us outside. He had perfectly coiffed rock hair; long, curly, vainly messed with. He looked like Steve Perry trying to hang with the cool kids of the 80s hair metal scene. It all felt like he was trying too hard to relate to the rock and roll life. We quickly began to huff speakers, pedalboards, and light cans into this dark and dank club. I don’t remember when Tim’s bass player showed, but he eventually did. The setup was pretty simple, as the drummer came in a small box and ran on a power strip. Jason and I quickly took a backseat as the show began and the coiffed club owner ran the lights.

As far as the crowd went, I don’t recall there being a huge one. Tim and his bass player put on a great show. Messages of love and the Lord’s dominance were delivered in a slurry of funky riffs, thumping bass, and biker shorts and sweaty tees. By this point, though, I had begun to hear more about the Christian message and less about cool movie references and the greatness of Billy Gibbons. I was getting older and I was seeing a lot of hypocrisy in the message of the pro lifers who were also pro gunners and pro capital punishment. Even at 16 I knew some moralistic wires were being crossed, but Christ I was a roadie and there was the promise of a Quarter Pounder at stake here. I was in.

I don’t recall how long Lovewar played, but with only a 5 or 6 song cassette EP under their belt it must not have been that long. The show on the stage ended, the little crowd dispersed, it was time to hump some gear back out to Tim’s pick up. As we loaded stuff up and Tim was discussing something with the owner(payment maybe?), an African American man wandered into the club. He came from the gay club behind the Christian club. He was a bit drunk, a bit upset, and he was bleeding. He was asking the owner if he could help him. Tim walked away from the discussion and began helping Jason and I finish up the load up. The conversation between the bleeding man and the Steve Perry wannabe was getting more heated as the man asked the owner to call an ambulance or the police. The owner refused and told the man he couldn’t help him. You know, the Christian guy that opened a Christian club near a strip bar and a gay bar, couldn’t help the bleeding black man for whatever reason. The owner told the man to leave, which he did begrudgingly, wondering out loud why he couldn’t get someone to care about him.

As soon as the man walked out of the club the owner closed the door behind him and immediately locked the door. I was 16 and still a little wet behind the ears, but I knew a hypocrite when I saw one. What I didn’t see was my buddy Jason. Apparently he was at the truck loading stuff when the club door was locked. After I’d realized where he was I told the owner “My friend is still out there. Unlock the door.” He did and when we stepped out my friend Jason was sitting on the pick up truck gate with the bleeding man, talking to him like a human being. The man said something to Jason like “Thanks” and walked away when he saw us walk out. A 16-year old kid from nowhere could open his ears and heart up to talk to a stranger in distress, but the Christian club owner couldn’t and wouldn’t. We loaded in the pick up and drove away from the club. We stopped and got the as-promised Quarter Pounders and made our way back to home.

That was my only time as a roadie for a Christian rock band, but I did keep getting lessons from Tim for a couple more years. That is until one day Tim told me he couldn’t show me anything more. He said it had gotten to the point where his wife couldn’t tell who was playing what during our lessons. He was basically taking money from my parents so that we could just jam. I understood and we said our adieus.

I kept in touch with Tim for a few years afterwards. He became a big deal in the Christian rock world, like I said earlier. Lovewar played Cornerstone Festival, toured Europe and Brazil, and played with some of the best Christian musicians and bands around. Tim later went on to form the Channelsurfers, which was another successful band. He got out of the band game and became a full-time studio owner, which he still does today(as well as being head pastor at a local church.)

I don’t speak to Tim anymore. I’m happy that he’s happy in his life. He seems like he’s found his calling as a studio guru/Bible scholar, but my stance as a “non-believer” seems to get in the way of just a normal conversation. I think leaving things somewhere in the past is the best course of action. Despite our disagreements and diametrically opposite moral compasses, Tim still is a central figure in my formative years. He opened my brain up to new musical and cinematic avenues, as well as completely blowing my teenage mind with his stellar six-string skills. He taught me about tone, amps, classic guitar gear, and how to properly appreciate Steely Dan.

And he played slide guitar with a bottleneck.

Colored Eggs and Rising Sons

Ah, Easter.

It’s that 2-day event every year where on a Friday Christians(as well as other applicable faiths) celebrate the crucifixion and slow death of their savior Jesus Christ. Then two days later they celebrate Jesus rolling the rock away from his tomb and heading back to heaven, like a kid going home on an extended college break. This celebration is done by attending church, then afterwards having a nice ham dinner with family and friends whilst not speaking of or even making reference to Jesus Christ or the serious nerve damage in his hands.

I grew up not going to church and not discussing religion at all in our house, yet my parents counted themselves as believers. We were lax Presbyterians, living next door to both southern Baptists and sketchy Lutherans. Everybody seemed to have chosen a winning team in the big religious game, so how could there ever be losers?(as we all know, everyone’s a loser unless you get on bended knee for the other guy’s deity.)

Despite not going to church and not praying before every meal, my parents believed in God. They did their time growing up with butts planted in pews and listening to a sweaty pastor talk about loving thy neighbor, casting the first stone, and even a word or two about a fiery lake somewhere in Hell(I think that’s located in Georgia.) We may not have gone to any house of worship(though we did hit a house of pancakes on trips now and then), my mom and dad loved putting the fear of God in me. But my dad would get to a point with Christianity where he seemed to have had enough. The earliest sign of that was when I came home from vacation bible school with the southern Baptist neighbors and told my dad the lady said if we didn’t go to church we’d go to Hell. “She said what?? Who the hell does she think she is?! You’re done going to that shit!”

And that was that.

My dad was of the belief that you could worship your own way, whether you were getting splinters from a shady pew on a Sunday morning or you were washing your car in the driveway listening to John Fogerty’s Centerfield on the garage boombox. God’s love wasn’t limited to specific, designated, tax-free buildings where true believers and hypocrites alike would gather to make themselves feel better(or at least better than you.) Now I’m not saying everyone that would attend church services on a regular basis were hypocrites. There was a steady mix of lifelong believers and insurance policy believers. You know, those types that live outside the realm of Christian doctrine but show up every Sunday morning for the warm and fuzzy feelings they got from the feeling that they were clearing the filling slate of sins they’ve accumulated through the week. Plus, it was a great way to be seen in some social situation. My dad didn’t buy the whole “organized” aspect of organized religion. Once religion gets organized, it tends to get less about religion and more about “things”. And yet, we’d still have ham every Easter Sunday. Like a muscle memory, or involuntary reflex, the grandparents would show up and we’d have a spread of ham, scalloped potatoes, corn pudding, deviled eggs(ironic), and a pie of some sort. My dad may have had an issue with organized religion, but a quality organized meal is never anything to turn your nose up to.

My mom, like my dad, saw the hypocrisy in the religious sect as well, but still held onto her belief in God and power of prayer. She also could put together a mean looking Easter basket. Chocolate bunnies, Reeses’ Peanut Butter eggs, those gross malted Easter eggs, and some toy of some sort(started out with coloring books, then worked up to GI Joe figures and cassette tapes.) The Saturday before she would buy the easter egg dye kits and I’d get to dye some hard-boiled eggs. This whole tradition was completely lost on me, but I did it because I liked hard-boiled eggs. On Easter Sunday morning I’d rise from my tomb and head out to the living room and check out what was in that wicker basket, then quickly turn on WNDU Channel 16 and tune into their crucifixion/rise from the dead coverage. It was the same program they’d play every year and every year I’d tune into this macabre oil painting they’d display of Christ on the cross. It was like tuning into The Charlie Brown Christmas Special in December, or The Charlie Brown Halloween Special in October. It was a tradition I kept up for several years until the Catholics at WNDU stopped showing it and went to various Easter Day parades.

I’ve grown up with the same mindset as my dad’s in regards to religion in general. I think I might be slightly more pessimistic in my view of religion. I see far more problems than solutions in the organization of religion, yet I think something like faith is a good thing. If your belief in God can get you through some earth-bound problems, I’m all for it. Just don’t judge others that don’t believe what you believe. Don’t ostracize others because their faith lies elsewhere. Love God in any language, country, continent, and faith as you like. Worship him in church, washing the car, making toast in the morning, or on a long afternoon walk. If faith and worship in God gives you peace of mind and completes you on some metaphysical level, keeping doing what you do.

And never turn down a ham dinner. Never.

Sad Songs, Car Rides, and Man-Made Lakes

When I was little I went to my grandma’s house quite often with my mom. Mostly I remember the trips before I was in school and the ones we’d take during the summer breaks. I loved going over to my grandma Ruthie’s house. She lived on Manitou Lake in Rochester, Indiana. It was usually a 35 to 40 minute drive on curvy state road 25. It was so curvy that there was one section of it nicknamed “Devil’s Backbone”. It was called this because it was like two to three figure eight halves put together through a section of wooded field(I’m assuming the devil must have Scoliosis if his backbone is this curved.) Anyways, the rumor is that more than a handful of people perished in fiery car crashes because of this section of SR25, but I think this might go down into the same urban legend lore as the men in black, alien abductions in the south, and the KISS farewell tour.

Anyways, the road was curvy, yadda yadda.

The rest of the ride was through cornfields and small towns called Palestine, Akron, and Mentone. Tiny, “if you blink you’ll miss ’em” spots that had small town diners, True Value Hardwares, and maybe a video store for those boring, small town Friday nights. So to bide the time between our house and grandma’s pontoon mom and I would listen to the radio. Now before I became a moody, mulleted teenager I didn’t have ample amounts of hair metal and neo-classical guitarist cassettes to annoy my mom with, so we tuned into the radio for our Midwest jaunt. The radio, now only a digitally soulless shell of what it used to be, was where you found a voice in the darkness that lit the dash of your car with local news stories and “today’s hits!” I loved the radio as a kid. I kept to myself mostly, so the voice on the radio kept me company. It put people like Steve Miller, Wings, the Raspberries, and Fleetwood Mac in my head and colored my imagination. Car rides were the best, though. While the parents sat in front, my brother and I could ignore each other and get lost in the sounds of Bob Seger, The Eagles, Aerosmith, and all those other AOR rock heroes of the 70s and early 80s.

But those car rides to Lake Manitou? Those were for sad songs. Songs that would hit my brain and heart in a weird way.  I can recall hearing Paul McCartney’s “My Love” and when he’d get to the “My love, does it, gooooood!” part I’d feel that pull in my gut like something soft and slow was squeezing my innards. A ghost from a past life giving me goosebumps. I didn’t understand it. “Wo wo wo wo, wo wo wo wo, my love does it good” Sir Paul would wail, his voice breaking, and I’d have the saddest feeling in the world come over me. Another song that always got me was Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”. That song always tore me the hell up. I was a wreck before we made it to Mentone if that came on the radio. “When I was young, I didn’t need anyone/Making love was just for fun, those days are gone”, seriously, man? You’re killing me Eric!(I recently revisited this song and it holds up.) Elton John’s “Daniel” was equally moving to my 6-year old brain. Songs about brothers always get to me, and a line like “God it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes” was sure to scar me emotionally.

I don’t know what it was about those songs. I think I was a maudlin kid that grew up into a maudlin adult. There’s something sickly satisfying about a song bringing you down, but not in a way that you can’t get back up from. They’re like litmus tests for soul. If a sad song makes you feel like crying, well then you have one. You have empathy. They turn that switch on inside your brain, the same one that comes on whenever you see a puppy, say goodbye to an old friend, or see photos of long gone loved ones in a mildewed photo album you find in the basement.

Like photos of me at my grandma Ruthie’s on Lake Manitou.

There I am drinking a Pepsi-Free and eating a Nestle Crunch bar. Oh look, I’m opening gifts during a Christmas get-together. And that’s me casting a line off grandma’s pier as she sits on the pontoon next to me smoking a More 100 and gauging my questionable cast(I did alright despite my lack of sporting smarts.) There’s mom and I standing next to our Accord waving goodbye to grandma as she took the photo. We got in the car and took SR25 back home, passing thru Mentone, Akron, and Palestine, and trudging the “Devil’s Backbone” before finally reaching home.

Sad songs do say so much.

 

Some Things That Should Not Be(But Are, So Deal With It)

The first album I ever heard from Metallica was Master Of Puppets, so naturally that’s the one I hold nearest and dearest to my heart. Master Of Puppets was the gateway album, Ride The Lightning was the one I totally immersed myself in, …And Justice For All was the first one I bought brand new(and as a fan), and Kill ‘Em All was the one I rediscovered as an angst-y adult in his middle age. Everything after those four records I could really not listen to again and I’d be okay with that. The Black Album suffered from massive burnout and too many blues riffs, the mid-90s were a complete blur of eyeliner, arty experimentalism, not-so good covers, and soundtracks. I’ll listen to St. Anger occasionally still, and the last two albums have moments of goodness. Reminders that Metallica can still do what got ’em here in the first place: thrash like no other.

But Master Of Puppets is still their artistic high point.

For four California Heshers who grew up on Black Sabbath, Diamond Head, and Motorhead, drank excessively, and were only five years into their music career Master Of Puppets was a high water mark for even a veteran metal band. Speed metal intertwined in progressive rock movements within the songs and lyrics that told stories. Metallica sometimes teetered on the edge of the whole evil/death stuff that Slayer, Exodus, and Megadeth dabbled in back in the heyday of thrash, but James Hetfield wasn’t quite the anti-faith guy the rest were. He grew up in a Christian Scientist home and watched his mom die from cancer because they didn’t believe in doctors. I think on a teenage mind that would have a negative effect, at least on the organized religion aspect. His lyrics always seemed to dabble in the injustice of the world, both on a social and personal level. I could relate to that. Much more so than lyrics about slaughtering virgins, serial killers, and genocide(I’m looking at you, Slayer.)

So Hetfield’s lyrics were about the human condition and authority figures lying to us in order to control us; whether those in control were priests, drug dealers, or the military. What 13-year old wouldn’t fall for that? In 1986 when Master Of Puppets came out Hetfield, Cliff Burton, Kirk Hammett, and Lars Ulrich were still barely adults. They’re in their early 20s and release one of the most influential heavy metal albums…ever. I was 12-years old when it came out, and my older brother was 18. It took a year before Metallica made their way into the Hubner boys’ ears, but when they did that’s all they wrote.

I remember very clearly the week that Master Of Puppets blew our minds. Summer of 1987 and my brother and I were spending the week at my uncle Mark’s house. He was working in the day, so my brother and I would stay up till the early morning playing my uncle’s NES. He’d usually see us bleary-eyed and half loopy playing 1941 or Excitebike as he was walking out the door for work. We’d crash for a few hours then wake up in time for a bologna sandwich and then head over to the nearby Concord Mall. It was on one of our afternoon jaunts that he told me about this band called Metallica. We were listening to Frehely’s Comet in my brother’s Cutlass when he said he’d picked up a cassette at the mall’s very cool record shop Super Sounds. I was perfectly fine continuing to listen to “Rock Soldiers”, Ace Frehely’s semi-autobiographical tale of rock and roll redemption, but my brother quickly ripped the plastic off that cassette tape and we were in speed metal territory.

My brain didn’t know what to think of what I was hearing coming out of those Pioneer Super Tuner speakers. What the hell was this “Battery”? It felt like a wall of crunch coming down on us(it didn’t help that my brother liked to play music LOUD.) I’d never heard drumming so fast and guitars played so fast yet intricately. The vocals, while loud and aggressive, were still understandable. Hetfield was his own preacher, preaching to a choir of disenchanted youth, lost souls, and a couple Midwest goons spending the week at their uncle’s house.

We digested that album in small doses all week, usually during mid-afternoon jaunts to the mall looking for trouble(or at the very least a hot pretzel.) I can say that my music-leaning brain was rewired because of that album. Master Of Puppets made me a speed metal fan instantly. By the week’s end my brother took off early because a buddy of his had gotten them tickets to see Megadeth in Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom. That was big time stuff. This was before the Aragon had been cleaned up, as well as the neighborhood it resides in. It was a scary area. My brother made me promise not to tell my uncle who he was going to see(my uncle was super cool, but also pretty religious.) I kept my promise. In fact, I may have told our uncle my big bro was going to see a Christian rock band(pretty sure he knew I was full of shit, but still.)

After that week, the Hubner boys were official speed metal freaks. Metallica songbooks were purchased, Anthrax t-shirts were acquired from the back of rock magazines, and hard to find EPs were hunted down. We made our way through various speed metal bands(Death Angel, Fate’s Warning, Metal Church, Testament, Exodus, Venom, Suicidal Tendencies), but the ones that really stuck with us were the big four: Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and of course Metallica.

It had been quite a few years since I’d listened to Master Of Puppets, but thanks to the thrifty Capitalists that Metallica are they have been reissuing their classic albums on their own Blackened Recordings record label. Out of curiosity(and obsession, sadly) I’ve been picking them all up. Last November Master Of Puppets dropped in newly remastered and shiny form. Normally I’d say this was a cash grab since I didn’t think anything was wrong with the original masterings. But given the fact that all these albums sound so good now in their newly remastered form I’ll forgive a little cash grabbing. I haven’t yet picked up the new …And Justice For All as I bought the previous version just a couple years ago. If someone can confirm or deny whether they brought Newsted back into the mix on this new version, that will determine whether I slap some greenbacks down and take that sucka home.

Master Of Puppets, though. Man, it’s a classic the same way that Paranoid, Toys In The Attic, High Voltage, and Screaming For Vengeance are. If you’re a metal guy or gal then there’s a short list(or long depending on who you are) of records you must own or you’re disqualified from the “Metal Club”. Master Of Puppets is on that list. Like, in the top 5. I can’t tell you how many times my brother and I have made reference to “The Thing That Should Not Be” when seeing something less than desirable. Or talking about seeing the “Leper Messiah” at Walmart or at the movies. There’s a lot of little moments and inside jokes that pertain to this record that only my big brother and I would laugh at, which makes this record that much more important to me.

I can remember him telling me about an idea his pal(the one he saw Megadeth with) and him had about a music video for “Master Of Puppets”. He said it would be like those old animated “Intermission” clips you’d see at the movies back in the day. You know, the dancing hot dogs, popcorn box, and box of Mike and Ike going to the concession stand to buy goodies? Well it would be like that except it would’ve been dancing syringes, pills, and joints as some guy was drug along like a puppet with strings leading up to a demonic hand. It’s a long song, so I’m sure there would’ve been more, but that’s all he’d ever told me about. I thought it was a pretty cool idea as a teenager, and I still sort of like it now. Sounds like something Rob Zombie would’ve made back in the 90s. Of course, this was also the buddy that my brother used to get high with after school. They’d head down to his buddy’s basement, get stoned, and watch Sesame Street soundtracked to Sabbath’s Master Of Reality(this is not a point of pride for big bro, just stating fact.)

“Battery”, “Master Of Puppets”, “The Thing That Should Not Be”, “Welcome Home(Sanitarium)”, “Disposable Heroes”, “Leper Messiah”, “Orion”, and “Damage, Inc” are what make up the Metallica classic. They soundtracked my teenage years and opened my brain to truly aggressive music. It was the foundation that I’d build a lifetime of music listening on. It also made a week in the summer of 1987 all the better.

But don’t tell my uncle about this.

 

Stranger Danger

I was a worry wart as a kid. I’m a worry wort as an adult, but I was a lot worse when I was much younger. “There’s a thunderstorm warning, which could lead to a tornado watch which could easily become a tornado warning…we’re all going to die tonight in our sleep”, I would usually start to cobble together in my large-ish head when the sky became a yellow-ish hue with a topping of carbon black. “Mom and dad are fighting over a game of Skipbo at 11:30pm on a Saturday night after one too many Strohs…my parents are getting divorced and I’ll be a latchkey kid”, I’d usually begin to assume whenever my parents argued. By morning I’d already have my multiple holidays figured out with each parent, widening the pit in my stomach even further(my parents are still happily married to this day after nearly 51 years together.) “They said I could go blind if I did this too much…I can already notice my sight fading”….

Well, you get the point.

I don’t know if this worrying thing was implanted along with the pale Germanic appearance and eventual thinning of my hair at conception, but it’s embedded and as much a part of me as the freckles on my face and the hearing loss in my right ear. My mom is a worrier as well, so maybe she gave me some of that which she carries around. But I’m of the opinion that a lot of this worrying was something I developed as a kid growing up in the 80s. Sure, the great fear in the 80s was that we’d get into a nuclear pissing match with Russia and we’d all be cruising the open roads with Mad Max looking for gasoline and unopened cans of dog food. But number 2 on the list of ways children would die in the 80s was kidnapping and murder.

The 80s was full of these horrific stories of child abductions. Every other TV movie of the week was about child predators preying on children at the ball pit at Showbiz, or as they perused GI Joes or Barbie dolls at the local Kmart. Ever heard of Adam Walsh? This poor kid was the poster boy for NOT leaving your children unattended at the store(it was also another TV movie of the week that terrified me to no end.) Unsolved Mysteries, America’s Most Wanted, and countless talk shows and magazine articles filled my elementary school-aged head with nightmarish tales of parents who’d lost their kids after turning away just a millisecond. By the time I was 8 years old I was convinced that every stranger looking my way was some mouth-breathing child predator monster looking to use my bones for game pieces. I trusted no one unless they were family, or were close family friends that knew who my favorite superhero was.

By all accounts the 80s were an incredibly dangerous time to be a young kid. I can remember countless times going into town with my parents and my dad pulling into the liquor store to grab beer before we headed home. They both would head into the liquor store and leave me defenseless, alone, and vulnerable to the miscreants of society in the backseat of the 1981 Omni Miser. The windows weren’t tinted. I was in there practically naked to the world, waiting for my horrific fate to befall me. Just as I thought the end was nigh, the front doors would open and in would pop my parents, handing me back a Slim Jim or piece of jerky as some sort of consolation prize.

There was also a time when I had gotten home from school and nobody was there. I was in the living room with a Capri Sun and a Nutty Bar when someone knocked on the door. I froze, but then quickly got up and looked through the peep hole. It was some stranger. Some guy looking kind of frumpy in a worn out winter jacket and a wool cap. I was instantly terrified. There was talk on the news of some guy trying to pick up kids in a town about 35 miles north of us. My mind instantly went there and assumed this frumpy guy was the creeper looking to grab kids(i.e., me.) I was as quiet as I could be and snuck into the hallway where I was at the only spot in the house where a window wouldn’t reveal my location. I made my way to my bedroom and creeped over to my window. There was the guy, seemingly looking for a window to peek in searching for some sign of life. I thought for sure he was going to try and open a window. I sat in the hallway waiting for the nightmare to end. Eventually the garage door went up and my parents returned home. I scolded them for leaving me all alone. I’m sure they both wondered what in the Hell was wrong with me. Looking back, this guy probably had car trouble and was looking for some help. These were the days before cell phones, so your only chance to contact a loved one in the event of an auto-emergency was with the kindness of strangers.

An anxiety-ridden 9-year old boy was not going to be that kind stranger, sorry to say.

There was the time my mom took me clothes shopping just before the start of 7th grade. I was convinced this guy was eyeing me in Sears and I figured he was going to try and nab me. He gave me a creepy look as my mom and I walked out of the store. I told her I was ready to go home, so the entire 45 minute drive home I had the front seat leaned all the way back so in case he was following us he wouldn’t see me in the car and follow us(I realize how absurd and neurotic that sounds.) It was an overwhelming fear. I let that fear ruin a stop at the record shop for the new David Lee Roth cassette and even a stop for some ice cream before leaving the mall. That anxiety of stranger danger beat out any need for dessert or Eat ‘Em And Smile.

The sad thing is that by today’s standards, the 80s were like the wild west for kids. Despite that fear of the creeper in the creeper van and the grocery aisle nabber, it was still a pretty freeing time to be a kid. I can remember going to my cousin’s house in the summer. He lived in town. Granted, it was a small town but it was still in town. We’d ride bikes all over the place and all day. We’d adventure out and about in the evening as well, hanging in parks and setting off “Works” bombs(yeah, we were idiots.) Then my best friend and I would hit the asphalt and head over to the small lake town of Oswego to the corner store and belly up to arcade games and gorge ourselves on candy and soda, not worried in the least about the freakazoid working behind the counter. Maybe it was just a matter of vulnerability that made it all so scary. Strength in numbers. Strength in stupidity. Maybe I was just a nervous kid with an overactive imagination. Maybe?

Fast forward to last night.

I’m driving my oldest over to her friend’s house where a bunch of her old school crew are getting together for snacks and a Disney movie. As we drove over my daughter’s phone rang. It was one of her best friends calling. She was at a local grocery store buying snacks for the night. She was scared because some guy in a wheelchair had cornered her in the store and wouldn’t let her leave. He initially asked her for money for a cab and she kindly(and naively) gave him $5 hoping he’d leave her alone. He then began talking about Jesus and how Jesus has affected him. He had her cornered for over 40 minutes when she called my daughter. We were on the way to the party when I changed gears and headed to the store. By the time we got there my daughter’s friend had made her way out and was in her car heading out of the parking lot. Apparently this guy had come out into the parking lot as she was leaving, made his way to a van(creeper van, I’m sure), and gotten in. He drove around the parking lot, parked, then got back out and into a wheelchair and made his way back into the store. No cab needed? My daughter’s friend was shook up but okay. She knew enough to call someone.

I may have been a paranoid, nervous kid growing up, but I think it served me well. I don’t think it’s any more dangerous now than it was when I was growing up. There’s just easier ways to get to kids now. Creeper vans have been upgraded to message boards and social media. The toy aisle and the walk home from school has been upgraded to coffeehouses and fake profiles. It’s good to raise your kids to be thoughtful, kind, and helpful human beings. But with just the right amount of trepidation, doubt, suspicion, and caution towards the “friendly stranger”, that can go a long way, too.

Just look at me. I’m doing great.

 

Dale’s House

On yesterday’s morning delivery from our plant to a local supplier I had stepped out of the company van and was hit with the smell of burning wood. In-particular, it was the smoke from a wood burning stove coming from a nearby house. That smell, along with burning leaves and the scent of a distant burning campfire, always take me back to being a very young boy and being at my Grandpa Dale’s house.

There are gaps in my relationship with Dale that I think are partly his fault and partly my own, but when I was very young he made a huge impression on me. My Grandpa Dale’s house was a place I visited often in my youth. My mom was very close to Dale when my brother and I were little. She was never not close to her mom, but I think there was a part of my mom that was extremely mad at my grandma for leaving Dale. It was her parents and their marriage collapsed when my mom was only 18(her youngest sibling was only 8 at the time of their divorce.) There was still a house full of children that were basically abandoned by their mom, and my mom sort of had to step in and make sure things didn’t fall apart. Make sure her dad didn’t fall apart(time would later reveal sides to the story that weren’t known, but that’s for another day.) So early on in the split and then re-marriage(my grandma remarried, with Dale remarrying not long after) my mom took us over to see Dale a lot. I can remember spending the night often. The house was cozy. It wasn’t very big, but to me it felt like a vast space. It seemed as if each room you hit, there was another room hidden inside. When you’d walk into the kitchen when you first arrived you were hit with smell of maple. I think the reason maple pershing donuts are my favorite donut is because I smell them and they remind me of Dale’s kitchen. I also have an affinity for iced oatmeal cookies because of his house.

Then before you left the kitchen there was a stairwell that went upstairs to two bedrooms, one was my uncle Mark’s room and the other was my grandpa’s stepson Jack’s room. Jack was a few years younger than Mark, so he lived at the house longer. But in the mid-70s I can remember going up to Jack’s room and the walls were covered with KISS posters. He had even made a scrapbook with nothing but cut-out pics of Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter in various states of rockdom. I was fascinated with that scrapbook, especially with Gene Simmons and his demon character. One picture in-particular was of him on stage with mucous-y lines of bloody spit and phlegm dangling from his reptilian tongue as he was probably eyeing the crowd for some underage girls to abuse after the show. It was scary and exciting all in one.

But I didn’t go up there that often, as my favorite spot in Dale’s house was his living room. It was where he had the TV, various comfortable spots to sit, and the wood burning stove. There was something so comforting about being in that room. It’s where my grandpa and I would sit later in the evening on nights I’d sleep over and have our bowls of ice cream(vanilla with chocolate syrup, natch) and watch late night TV. Usually it was The Benny Hill Show. My grandpa loved Benny Hill, and in turn so did I. When I was over in the winter Dale would always have the wood burning stove going. It instantly brought the room to an almost womb-like comfort. You never wanted to leave that room. You had everything you needed; direct heat, vanilla ice cream, and Benny Hill. I can remember waking up with Dale at probably 5 in the morning and he’d opened the door to the stove to put more wood in. I remember looking into that iron box of glowing embers and endless heat and saying to Dale “Is that where the devil lives?.” Dale just laughed and said “Maybe.”

Dale Gaut, 1975

There are other memories of Dale and that house. He’d run to the main drag in Nappanee and grab burgers and fries from the drive-inn and bring them back for dinner. I remember one of the “rooms in a room” was a small den behind the living room where all the board games were. My uncle Mark would pull board games out and do magic tricks(like pulling a foam red ball out of my ear or making a quarter disappear.) My uncle Mark became quite good at magic, btw(still, another story for another time.) I remember more than a few holidays spent in that house. An old piano sat in the dining room where my uncle Donnie would sit and plunk out some chords to Christmas songs while the kids rummaged and wrangled throughout the house waiting for the sign that it was time to open Christmas gifts. I can remember staying a whole week at Dale’s because the pipes froze in the trailer we lived in at the time. My dad stayed at home because he had to work, while my mom, my brother and I hung out with Dale.

Eventually Grandpa Dale and his wife Gloria sold the house in Nappanee and bought a farm in a small town called Wyatt. I think he was living out some long-seeded fantasy of being a farmer. I’m not sure if he ever grew anything, or if he even had animals, but he had a pretty awesome classic International Harvester tractor that he tooled around in. He also had a nice patch of forest where there was great mushroom hunting to be had. After he had his stroke the farm was sold and they moved to Florida where the heat and humidity made his injured body easier to manage.

I miss that old house where my Grandpa Dale lived. I miss my grandpa Dale. He’s been gone for over 5 years now and I find myself wanting to send an email to him and ask him a question about when he was younger. I’d want to ask him about Benny Hill and the favorite thing about living on a farm. I’d also want to ask him why his kitchen always smelled like maple pershings.

Funny what memories the smell of a wood burning stove will bring back.