This is gonna be a rougher one. Part one was pretty great, the childhood in Geneseo, a town similar to TV’s Mayberry in many ways. What happened right after that wasn’t great at all, and really threw me for a loop. I think I still have issues that stem from this period, though it wasn’t all bad. In fact, what I did to keep myself sane during this time put me on a path that was a whole lot of fun in many ways, though not particularly wise in the long run, at least from a financial perspective. So let’s dig in, shall we? Those that don’t care (the vast majority I would think) can simply skip down to the baseball history stuff. I started doing this sort of on a dare, and I’d feel like I was shirking responsibility now if I didn’t at least plug away at the task of relating my bizarre life story. So here we go…
To recap, my grade school years (1-6) were all in little ol’ lovable, kid heaven, Geneseo, NY. Loved almost every single second of that time. However, as my 6th grade year was progressing, things between my parents weren’t so great. Lots of arguments, and I can recall one incident that threatened to become physical. I was largely oblivious to all this, and ultimately dumbfounded when I learned that a divorce was in the offing. To this day I have no real take on why or how my folks relationship became unsustainable. It just did.
So, as the school year wound down, it came to pass that my mom was gonna be moving us kids to a little one story house in suburban Rochester, far enough away from Geneseo as to make it a clean break. My dad was gonna be in this apartment still in Geneseo, getting us three kids for the weekends. Not good. In retrospect, I think that made it harder to adjust to the realities of our soon to be suburban milieu. Not a clean break so much as a really slow pull of the band-aid. Both locales became surreal, Geneseo becoming a place we used to love, but with now just a taste of it available, and with attention to dad rather than our friends more of a concern. Henrietta, the Rochester suburb, becoming a place that we were slower to get used to due to not being there for weekend activities or friend making. It was the worst of both worlds, all the while feeling a dizzying array of emotions in the aftermath of a divorce whose cause was never really made clear. It sucked, it really really did, for a few years there.
One little side note, since this is gonna be epic in length anyhow: On the final day of 6th grade, with my favorite teacher just having told me “be a leader, I expect big things from you” as his last words, dad and I headed west to the bay area, for the funeral of his mother. I think I’d met her twice that I could remember. This was a stressful and rather surreal trip. Driving across country in dad’s VW bug, never stopping to sleep, only to eat, dad hopped up on speed of some sort, not really talking about anything. Not even sure why it was me doing this trip. I seem to recall my brothers and mom going to Cape Cod at this same time. I may well have been showing solidarity to dad, who for many years I saw as the victim in all this. Not sure why, really. But he was my lifeline to lots of stuff I held dear, even at that young age. Baseball, music, all those hippie friends of theirs that were always at the Geneseo house and seemed so “cool”.
Anyway, we make the journey west, stay with my dad’s sister, and I get to hang out with my cousins, whom I hadn’t seen in years. It was fun, at least when the realities of why we were there didn’t come creeping in. My cousin and I played a lot of catch, told each other jokes, just did lots of kid stuff, though he had a couple years on me. What’s weird as I look back is that I wasn’t taken to the funeral, staying behind with one cousin I think it was, while everyone else attended what I can only imagine must have been a stressful and bizarre service, what with my dad and his dad not ever really having been close, especially since the move east. I think I mostly just treaded water, got through one day at a time, filling each with as much familiar, fun, kid stuff as I could. The high point of this trip was getting to go to my first big league ball game, a day fabulous enough to sweep aside all other aspects of what was a long strange trip. Saw Mays, McCovey, Marichal, got Garry Maddox’s autograph. It was a magical sunshiny day, forever emblazoned on my neurons. We got home, I got bundled off to mom’s new house in Henrietta, and a new life for which I had little to no enthusiasm began.
That new life really really sucked, for a few years at least. I hated where we lived, in one of those tract homes in a development comprised of winding, cutely named streets, in which it was far too easy to get lost. I HATE feeling lost. It was new to me, having gotten to know every nook and cranny of Geneseo so well. The nearest store was barely within walking or even biking distance, and it was a single 7-11, with lots of hills to climb on the way. There were kids of similar age in the neighborhood, but they weren’t all that welcoming or friendly, and I was pissed off to begin with about having to start from scratch with that. I maintained friendships for a while with Geneseo people, but even that became difficult and fraught with logistical and “growing apart” issues. My 6th grade “girlfriend” ended up moving away, and that sorta sealed it for me. It was time to embrace or otherwise come to terms with this new reality. It took a while.
At first I sorta withdrew into my own little world, spending lots more time than ever listening to music, reading Rolling Stone and similar magazines, trying to find more adult ways to forge a path forward, away from kid-dom. My voice had changed during that summer of surreal separation, but I was still a scrawny runt of a kid with an awful, long, stringy haircut, thinking adult thoughts, feeling adult emotions, but stuck in a body that wasn’t ever really gonna get much bigger. My interest in sports waned, and I really did seal myself away from lots of things, most importantly the family members with whom I was living. Not real sure why. Maybe I was feeling like others didn’t get how important dad was, but I basically stopped talking to my brothers at all, and not a whole lot with mom either.
The weekends with dad were no less bizarre. I’d get his bedroom while my brothers had to share another room, always a source of frustration for them and a pain in the ass for me. I never asked for that, and to this day I think there are lingering “he always got special treatment” issues on their end, for which I can’t blame ‘em. Dad would do some weird shit too. His bedroom had a big pile of Penthouse magazines in it. I was 12-14. You do the math. He’d take us to see movies, always odd choices. “10” I recall being especially uncomfortable seeing with dad and two younger brothers. I guess he was trying to, in his strange way, teach us that all women weren’t like mom. It wasn’t all weird though. We’d do these big crazy 8’s card tournaments, with scoreboards and stats and everything, and we all enjoyed that. As a whole though, life was in disarray, and would be for a couple more years, never fully settling into normalcy.
But eventually I was able to make friends. Real friends rather than the kids I’d tried to hang with in 7th and most of 8th grades. People with whom I had things in common, mainly music and a certain left wing slant on the world. By 9th grade I was pretty comfy. I’d come out of my shell socially, had grown a little physically, and was feeling better. I had friends among the nerdy smart kids in my honors classes, better friends that shared more of my interests in other classes, even jock friends and a few popular girl friends. Life was fun again, at least at school, and was beginning to be elsewhere as well, as I started doing more and more socializing after school and on weekends, newly freed by that time by my dad’s move west to stay with his sister in the aftermath of losing his job.
That’s a whole separate facet of these years. The timeline of my dad’s comings and goings during these years is impossible to recall. I think he lived in like six different places total, some close, some far away. All throughout my teenage years, mom and dad would have these little periods of “are they getting back together?”. Dad stayed at the Henrietta house for at least a few extended periods, still trying to find work in his field, without much success. He even did a little local sports talk radio and some work on TV, a source of never-ending humor for my friends at the time. But anyway, it was always weird, never clear what exactly was happening with the folks, if anything. It would get weirder yet.
The main thing, the important thing, the thing that would give me my greatest joy in life, to this day, that happened during these years was my deciding I wanted to play guitar. I must have been reading a lot of album covers or music reviews or something, because I didn’t just want to play guitar, but a very specific style. I guess I’d heard some acoustic blues on the college radio station my dad ran, and his recording blues legend Son House a few years earlier for said station was a fun experience, if a bit scary, so I knew what I wanted to sound like from the get go. Within a year I went from being a typical teen with typical, if a bit wider ranging, taste in music, to an obsessed blues and “folk” music fan. Someday I’ll do a piece on why I always use quotes around “folk”.
So dad picks me up a cheapo guitar from family friend Buzzo’s music shop on Geneseo’s Main street, and I take to it big time. A few months of learning the basic chords from a book and the first Bob Dylan LP, a part of the always voluminous and esoteric record collection on hand throughout my childhood and teenage years, then hours and hours, even more months and months, of learning to play alternating bass fingerpicking acoustic guitar, trying to sound like Mississippi John Hurt or Mance Lipscomb, whose records dad had by then foisted on me. My right hand thumb swelled up so big that I had to get it lanced! I had discovered a whole new world, and one that nobody else in my world had any knowledge of except dad.
Yep, good ol’ dad. He was often far away, in more ways than one during these years, but when he was there, he made a point of sharing his knowledge and love of all sorts of music, way beyond the kinds of things that were popular at the time. Being a teen with some typical teen friends, I never let go of loving some crappy music, but more and more I was becoming a connoisseur of blues especially, and later, ragtime, jazz, bluegrass, reggae, just about anything. I started reading up on this stuff, devouring blues history books, again courtesy of dad. Weird magazines and instrument catalogs, more books, more records, more hours of playing. Before long I was asking for the complete collection of Blind Blake material, on Biograph Records (5 LP’s), for Christmas. The great thing about my family? I got it. Somehow they were able to get it mail order, and man was I happy! No kid getting a new bike was more jubilant than I that fine winter morning. I got even more serious about the guitar, got even more music thrown at me by dad, like Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Leo Kottke and John Fahey records, basically anything that had fingerpicking guitar.
Entangled throughout all this musical studiousness, all this finding my bearings socially, all this weirdness familially, was discovering weed. I guess it was early 9th grade. I recall that it took me 2-3 attempts before I ever got stoned. And man did I like it! Took to it like a fish to water. Getting to know the folks through whom it was available only helped my social standing, and I was soon a fairly regular user, joining mom and dad, neither of whom had ever stopped. They weren’t overjoyed, but as long as I kept my grades up, and I did, they were OK with it. There were even instances where I’d smoke with them, like when dad took me to Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, or when he’d wake me on a weekend night to watch Monty Python together. To call back a previous point, I don’t think I earned any love from my brothers for getting this kind of special treatment, which extended to little things like being the only one to have my own little plastic GE stereo set.
So yeah, I was a weed guy from maybe age 14-15, ramping up in usage with time. It was a good thing! It enabled me to spend even MORE hours alone in my room with my by now professional quality guitar (Guild D-25). I was able to hear things like never before, feel things in the music that had not revealed themselves previously. I saw it as an educational aid, I really did. In fact, a few years later, senior year I think it was, I purposely got stoned before taking a whole day of Regents exams. Aced ‘em all, the Social Studies one being memorable for inspiring me to to write a long essay about Scott Joplin and ragtime’s unlikely inclusion on the classical music charts. That teacher actually called me at home to ask if he could do something with that essay, the result of which I never learned.
By the later years of high school, I had climbed the social ladder to a place approximating where I’d been in Geneseo. I knew everyone, from all social stratas, was well liked, if thought of as a little odd (nickname? Space), and was barely home on weekends. I had a core group of friends with whom I’d hang on Friday nights, drinking beer and playing pool in my one friend’s basement while listening to the piles of records everyone would bring. This little routine became quite popular, with hangers on and would be friends forever trying to become part of this little scene we had going. The coolest of the cool, even older kids and people that were in college already, became part of the group. We’d do some crazy shit, with cars and empties, none of which I can really go into in much detail without knowing statutes of limitations.
Around 10th grade I began dating a bit, but was more interested in the music, the drugs, the social scene as a whole at this time. It was a different era, and my friends and I were surely different! Proms? Dances? Basketball games? All not cool. We wouldn’t be seen dead at any of those, the lone exception being my one friend’s basketball games occasionally. He was 6’10” by 8th grade, and reluctantly this guy did what was expected of him, which was playing center on the team like his older brothers all had. He could have been good, but like us, he was more interested in the other things. Managed to get a scholarship to Manhattan though. A lot like how I skated through the academics, even some college courses, without much effort or interest.
So it was, after a few really uncomfortable and socially harrowing years, a whirlwind of fun and friends by the time I was maybe 15-16, and right through until graduation. I should give thanks to my English teacher (and more, not telling that one) for a few years, Ms. Nelson, for my even graduating. I hadn’t attended gym class for a few years by that time, not to mention frequently not being present for other classes. I’d wander in for the tests, ace ‘em, then go on about my business. Ms. Nelson made sure I’d be graduating, tenth in my class as it turned out. But by this time I knew what I wanted to do, and it didn’t involve academia. I’d gone through the motions of applying to colleges, and even had a full ride to UC Berkeley, which I ignored, to the eternal disappointment of both parents, and at various points here and there for decades to come, myself.
I wanted to play music. It was what gave me the most joy in life, and I was getting fairly good at it. My best friend was a fantastic drummer, still is, and was already making money doing it, occasionally a lot. He was into jazz fusion mainly, but his tastes were as wide ranging as my own, and we’d go to the blues clubs and open mic nights, networking with folks that would loom large in both our lives for the next several years. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here, because it wasn’t until after school was over that I started playing in public regularly, but I was getting some nice attention, and in a style NOBODY else played. I could sound like the records and even add my own touches to some things. Purely instrumental at that point. Too shy to sing, not really looking to anyway. By the time junior year was over, I was big into arranging everything from ragtime to Bach to Irish fiddle tunes to Beatles songs for solo fingerpicking guitar. I remember playing for my English class late that senior year, at Ms. Nelson’s impossible to refuse request. Nobody there even knew I played. It was fun, but a little bittersweet, as I knew this would be my last year of formal schooling, maybe forever. I graduated a happy guy with lots of friends, and with a future beginning to take shape, in the bars and clubs in and around Rochester.
I’m sure this all sounds rather disjointed, and there’s reason for that. I have trouble recalling sequences of events, placing specific incidents in context. The main themes were distancing myself from family, aside from maybe dad when he was around, doing the bare minimum in school to get by with still good grades, taking the advanced classes that they sprang on me each year, and mostly, immersing myself in the whole world of music that lies beneath the surface and around the edges of what’s popular. At 15-16 I could talk your ear off about ragtime pioneers, early blues greats from the 1920’s, some jazz history, some bluegrass and related “folk” type musics, even some jazz fusion by way of my friends. Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke were as much a part of my musical world as Blind Blake and Charley Patton. In many ways the latter part of this period was a blur of music, weed, social interaction with several groups of disparate people, and least of all, life at home. I was ready to be independent.
But that would be delayed for a year, as I ended up taking a factory job out of economic necessity, still living at home but paying rent now, and continuing my informal musical apprenticeship. Loved that job, by the way. Inspecting BB guns, and getting paid well. Rate based pay. I inspect a lotta guns, I get paid more. I got paid a lot. College was ostensibly on hold, in an effort to mollify the folks, but I was just marking time until I could get out on my own. As it turned out, one final dose of parental weirdness, this one a doozy, made that move an easy one.
At some point towards the end of my time in Henrietta, my mom and dad had rekindled something I guess. Dad had finally found steady work in his field at a community college in Maryland, and the plan became for them to move there, to buy a house, the whole nine yards. I’d had enough by then of the constant ebb and flow and “what the fuck are they doing now?” of their relationship. It clearly wasn’t gonna end well (it almost immediately didn’t), and that knowledge was the final straw that motivated me to look for a little apartment in the city, put the Henrietta years behind me, and enter the fray as a musician, even if part time at first, in a determined effort to carve out a life as such. It was an exciting time.
There are so many details I haven’t covered here, so many things misremembered probably, so many clues to future foibles. For example, I never mentioned that my mom had worked as an art teacher in the same district we all went to school in upon moving to Henrietta. That added some weirdness to the first few years there, as classmates knew and liked my mom, but maybe not me so much. There was the time I smashed up mom’s car on the way home from my Friday night thing. Made weirder by the fact that the parked car I clipped belonged to a family whose son was in my mom’s class. There was the not being able to really have friends over due to mom still smoking weed and not wanting that to get out at all now due to her job. Just lots and lots of atypical things, a few too alarming to convey here. Things most people my age weren’t dealing with. And over the top of it all was the ever-bizarre, “what are they doing NOW?” mom and dad stuff. I mean, it might have been easier if they’d each gone their separate ways and stayed there rather than constantly finding ways to almost, sorta, not quite, but finally yes, maybe, get back together. I couldn’t keep track! Dad was a huge influence on me at this time, what with the music and all, but mom was always there, working hard, paying the bills and buying the food. We all learned to be self-sufficient though. I was making my own meals and doing my own laundry and working part time jobs from like age 14. Car by 16, maybe 17, a nice 1970 Ford Torino ($500) that I destroyed a few years later by never adding oil. Threw a rod on the way to work at that BB gun factory.
Overall it was pretty great by the last couple years however. Just took some time to get my bearings. What it all did though was to turn my attentions simultaneously inward, with the music and the weed and the inner world that that all opens up, and outward, as family became anathema, something to be avoided, escaped from, not thought about too deeply. Mostly I was happy I guess, especially with the music and social stuff, but I was also escaping, maybe burning bridges with my sole means of support. But who thinks they need support at that age? I just wanted out, and eventually got there.
In the next installment, which may come sooner than later because it’s almost all great stuff, I’ll cover the years I spent playing music for a living for the most part. It’ll be over soon, I promise! And for goodness sake, why are you reading this?
Today in Baseball History 10/7
1904 - Jack Chesbro gets his 41st win of the season when the Highlanders beat Boston in New York, 3-2, Happy Jack’s win-total is considered to be the modern era major league mark for the most victories in a season.
1905 - Fred Odwell hits his ninth and final home run of the season, making the Reds’ outfielder the NL’s home run champion. ‘Fritz’ hit just one last year as a rookie, and after leading the majors this season, will never hit another round-tripper again.
1919 - Dickie Kerr of the Chicago White Sox overcomes errors by Swede Risberg and Happy Felsch to win Game Six of the World Series, 5-4, over the Cincinnati Reds. Buck Weaver and Shoeless Joe Jackson combine for seven hits, and Chick Gandil, another one of the eight “Black Sox,” singles in the winning run in the 10th inning. Kerr wins his second game as the Sox now trail the best-of-nine Series by a 4-2 margin.
1969 - The Cardinals trade Curt Flood along with Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner and Tim McCarver to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Dick Allen, Jerry Johnson, and Cookie Rojas. When Flood refuses to report to Philadelphia, St. Louis will send Willie Montanez and a minor leaguer to complete the trade, but the outfielder’s courageous challenge to the reserve clause will have a dramatic impact on the game.
2001 - On the last day of the season, Rickey Henderson bloops a double down the right field line off Rockies’ hurler John Thomson to become the 25th major leaguer to collect 3000 hits. Tony Gwynn, who is playing in his last major league game and is also a member of the 3000 hit club, meets the Padre outfielder at home plate in front of a sellout crowd Qualcomm Park.
Absolutely nothing O’s related today, that I could unearth anyway. If you have something, I’m all ears.
Hey, I know this one was a complete bore. Tomorrow might be better. Something shorter for sure. Adieu!