A Life of Letters

Hate Job Applications

Posted in 1979, Family, Michael by southpawcom on February 6, 2010

Not sure, but I think my brother, Michael, enclosed an admissions application to Michigan State with this letter.

After pretty much a lifetime of Michael and I not really being close (he’s more than six years’ my senior), it was around this period that I suppose I had grown up enough that he started to see me as someone he could relate to.

He provides a fairly succinct summary of his life and conditions in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the middle of February. Things remain thus: not much work, lots of snow, friends in abundance to play music with, a life lived about as you want it.

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I’ll Be Bummed

Posted in 1977, Friends by southpawcom on February 6, 2010

It’s fun to think about my friend, Mike K., who was a second-tier friend from about 5th grade until the end of high school. Mike was a smallish, sensitive guy with a mellow and ironic sense of humor. He often would pad around the hallways of our high school, usually in the company of a couple of the artier girls, with this unperturbed and somewhat spaced-out look on his face, and when I would see him, I couldn’t help but smile. He’d look up at me and say, “Mark, I’m so bummed….” But when he laughed it sounded a little like a goat. I could make him laugh pretty easily.

Mike was a pretty good actor. He had some memorable roles in our theater days, the Hermit in a one-act play in our “Theater-In-The-Round,” which had lines like, “Drink….drunk….past the twelve….my you’re looking pale today….” He also played Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls” and had to sing “Sue Me.” I remember his angsting out because in his role as Allen-A-Dale in “Merry Yours, R. Hood,” he had to learn guitar well enough to play it and sing a short ballad. He did great!

Mike was actually elected our senior class president. He had a girlfriend for a couple of years in high school, Terri L. They were quite a pair, as she was several inches taller than he. They were kind of like Agents 99 and 86 or maybe Tenille and the Captain.

He drove a beat-up Oldsmobile that he called Clem. Once Will got sick while we were driving and drinking on Orchard Lake Road in West Bloomfield, and he rolled down the window and threw up all over Clem’s door. Mike was unflapped. Said he, oy vey, “Little Billy….throwing up.” Sunrise, Sunset.

When we were younger, he was the only player on my Little League team who was a worse hitter than I was. His dad was one of the coaches, and having been my son’s Little League coach for several years, I can only imagine how that must have made for some uncomfortable dinner table conversation.

On September 7, 1974, Mike invited me to spend the night at his house, and we went to a beach party. He had gotten access to some Scotch, and it was the first time in my life I ever got drunk. I can still recall the slanted late summer sunshine and jumping around his yard and driveway, jabbering away to nice looking girls at the beach, and feeling the exhilarating effects of alcohol on my wiry teenage frame for the first time.

Mike learned about being depressed well enough, I suppose, that he grew up to become a psychiatrist. He also went gay. Will and I drove down to Ann Arbor about 15 years ago to see him, and he was balding and had a beard. He didn’t seem nearly as fun as he used to be.

I’ll still fondly remember a lot of good times with Mike K.

I had moved with Mom and Dad to New Jersey right after graduation from Andover High and was planning a trip back to Michigan to see friends and family.

Wearing Your Striped Shirt is Enough to Make My Day

Posted in 1980, Loves, Rebecca by southpawcom on February 6, 2010

Bec taped this note to my door at 269 Phillips Hall at Michigan State, before she whisked off to begin her busy day. I remember that when I wanted to linger in bed with her in the mornings, she would demur gently: “I want to start my day.”

I’ve always felt a special intimacy whenever a girlfriend (or wife) would wear an article of my clothing. Bec would frequently wear a lot of my shirts and even my grey, Irish walking cap. Talk about cute.

For my part, she had a pair of denim OshKosh overalls that I could wear. She and others had applied to them all kinds of sayings and loopy flower-power designs with blue ballpoint ink.

When she wore them, though, as she walked past I would enjoy grabbing the utility loops on the sides, saying “C’mere…,” and kissing her before freeing her to her return to her appointed rounds. It was also rather nice that one needed only to slide a hand down under the riveted buttons on either side, as likely to be undone as done, for a little heavy pettin’.

There is no doubt in my mind that the tape at the bottom of the image was helped along toward becoming yellowed by having picked up a bit of the heavy stain and lacquer applied in many coats to the old oak door of my residence hall room, 269 Phillips, Michigan State University. Go Green!

Erica Lyn

Posted in 1976, Chrissy, Loves by southpawcom on February 4, 2010

A note from my high school senior year girl friend, Chrissy, signed with her future nom de cinema and distilling some of my peers’ major concerns in 1976 or ’77.

Then I’ll Have Everything

Posted in 1977, Chrissy, Loves by southpawcom on February 4, 2010

I treated Chrissy pretty poorly. This letter dated June 7, 1977, sent just a few days ahead of my graduation from Andover High School, makes that pretty clear.

She was a year younger, and I went out with her because I couldn’t go out with Mary H. or Mary G. or who knows who else. She was apparently star-struck by the leading men of classic American cinema, such as Clark Gable and Fred Astaire, and the only thing I could think was that she was attracted to me from my leading roles in the high school musicals. I had to look up the source of the poem on page 3, and sure enough, it is from a Barbra Streisand song.

I do remember having a lot of fun with Chrissy, and in retrospect, she was not a dummy. But so arrogant and cocky was I in our relationship that that is exactly the nickname I gave her: “Dummy.” She would even occasionally refer to herself as “your dummy.”

I wish that I still could unburden myself of things I don’t particularly care to do with the simple reason that I don’t feel like it.

Liszt Requires Technique

Posted in 1998, Aunt Kaye, Family by southpawcom on February 3, 2010

A treasured letter from my Aunt Kaye, whom I introduced to you in this post. Here in this letter, which was written a good seven or eight months prior to the one in the earlier post, she waxes nostalgic not only about her musical youth, but also of her courtship with Uncle Ger, the Depression, some great historical observations of Rachmaninoff, Dad when he was well, and Mom when she was ill.

Like all good writers, she wrote exactly as she spoke, punctuated and emphatic. (That last word reminds me of one of her pet sayings…when someone would mispronounce a word, she would correct them by saying, “My dear, you have placed the em-PHASS-is on the wrong syl-LAH-ble…”) She was a joy, and I would miss her more if my memory of her and her blithe spirit weren’t still so alive.

Jazz Butcher

Posted in 1986, Friends by southpawcom on February 3, 2010

I don’t at the moment recall just how or when I became acquainted with “Intense Jim” or “Intensity.” I believe he hung out with Keith and Jamie and that crowd, and that I met him in the Dippity Doo-encrusted days of the early spring of 1984. But he was a ruggedly handsome guy with an athletic build, who loved baseball and rock and roll with an equal…well, intensity. He got his name because he always wore a rather scrutinous or analytical expression on his chiseled, Clutch Cargo face and seldom, if ever, laughed or smiled.

For some reason, he looked up to me, perhaps as a guy who he believed might possibly have known more about the aforementioned topics than he. He was a good guy and apparently taught himself to play the guitar pretty well. He was one of those types of guys, like Jeff F., who would for a period of time — weeks or months — hole themselves up in their rooms, not eat or pay heed to the outside world, and teach themselves how to play guitar. And when they emerged, they could play the guitar just as well as they please. Guys can do this, but I think the acetic thing is not for women or girls. It’s intense. I think it might be the same mentality shared by the guys that go to prison and then spend their days and nights in their cells doing stomach crunches and pull-ups until they’re ripped.

Anyway, he was evidently smitten with an artist named the Jazz Butcher. He sent me two cassette tapes with this letter filled from capstan to capstan with the music of the Jazz Butcher. As I recall, I never listened to either, and they were pretty highend cassette tapes, Maxell Metals or something, and I believe I recorded over them pretty shortly after I received them. Sorry, Intensity.

It was unfair of me to do that, because I can recall vividly being so instantly taken with an artist (Social Climbers or Gun Club, for example) that I too had to write or talk about the artist in breathless adulation to any audience I could find and research everything ever written about them in the most obscure of DIY publications.

A 300% Jump in One Year

Posted in 1987, Loves, Rebecca by southpawcom on February 3, 2010

Bec had moved past est and the people and life she had in Seattle and was back living in Detroit and working for EDS when she wrote me this undated letter. (Well, OK, March 11, but no year.) This came out of my big box of letters without an envelope, either. I’m going to put it at 1987, since she says I must be “going through a lot … with the wedding,” which must have been my wedding to Julie on May 9 that year.

She describes at length her relationship with her boyfriend, John, which she gives an outside survival chance of six months, because she wanted to stay focused on her career. If I’m not mistaken, this is the same John that she married and remains married to. I’m glad she’s not an oncologist.

I always enjoyed Bec’s warm and free association sense of humor. She was always very supportive of and genuine with me. We never stopped telling each other, “I love you,” even after we had long since stopped being romantically linked.

On the other hand, isn’t she a little bit sassy, acknowledging my impending wedding and then asking me for a date? (And then giving only her work number to call.)

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Had No Idea St. Louis Was So Busy

Posted in 1983, Friends by southpawcom on February 3, 2010

Paul was my last roomie in college at Michigan State. In spring term 1980, he had an opening in his room in the corner of the hallway at Phillips Hall, 2nd Floor. I honestly don’t remember one single day or night in that room, although I know I had them. I guess I may recall some buzzed chats and laughter late in the night between our bunks. He was by far the easiest male roommate I ever had. I guess he was the last one as well. He was a good guy but by no means a close friend.

Paul was from Wahpeton, North Dakota, which is just across the Mississippi River from Breckenridge, Minnesota. His family ran a travel agency and a movie theater in town, and Paul knew how to run the big cinema projectors. He even had a job in East Lansing as the projectionist at the State Theater, which I believe was the last of the downtown theaters there. Paul was a good guy. You could tell he was brought up right in a small town.

He had himself a girlfriend,  I’m pretty sure a girl he knew from high school. Anyway, when he graduated from Michigan State, he moved back home, started working in his family’s business, and married his sweetheart. I know I saw him once in Louisville, and evidently he came back to East Lansing in the spring of ’83, and we got together. I have no memory of it.

I do have lots of memories of going back to Phillips Hall after class some days in my second year at State, after I moved out of the dorm and moved in with Rebecca in Ulrey House Coop, and sitting around with Paul, Glenn, and a bunch of my other old pals, just chilling, sipping beer, and getting stoned. We used to listen to cool music and just chit chat, but at some point someone could be counted on to break out a record of the overture to Bizet’s  opera, “Carmen,” to which we would all “air conduct,” giggling our asses off.

I couldn’t go to Paul’s wedding, and to this day I still have never been to North Dakota. I just hope I let him know that I wouldn’t be making it, so he could get someone else to wear the tux. He was an all right dude. I didn’t know he was into fantasy art, or perhaps it was a druggie allusion for my benefit.

Invoice Between the Sheets

Posted in 1985, Loves, Tori by southpawcom on February 1, 2010

Having had a year of career-type work under my belt, I decided in the early spring of 1985 to take a few days off and travel to New York. I was going to see my newly married friend, Ann-Face, who lived I believe in Westchester County with her husband, Phil, and I was going to see my old girlfriend, Tori, who lived in Astoria.

I wish I remember more details of the trip. I know that I spent two nights with Tori, after I had been at Ann and Phil’s. I met her at Grand Central Station, and we spent the evening in Chinatown. We had a great time, winding and laughing through the sidewalk markets on Mott Street. We spent the next day hanging out at the beach on Long Island Sound (it was cold and windy). We partied with her friends around Astoria the second night. After the bar, I had been given a place to crash on the sofa in the living room, and I remember that she came out in the darkness to tell me that she had something to show me in her bedroom. In her bedroom I remember she took off her top in the front of the mirror, and we just started making out. I remember her shushing me in bed so as not to wake up her roommates.

Although she had me heartbroken through most of 1978 and ’79, by 1985 I had grown up enough to see Tori as hopelessly hard to figure out and just a little put-on. She wrote me a few times later that year, and we kept in touch sporadically over the years, including exchanges over the dreaded Facebook, but I haven’t seen her since.

But she wrote some me some great letters, as you shall see….

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