A Life of Letters

An Impetuous Girl and Them Blessed Tigers

Posted in 1984, Kim, Loves by southpawcom on March 6, 2012

Kim was a third-year reporter with the Port Huron Times Herald in the celebrated fall of 1984. Nearing my 26th birthday, I was six months into my first career job, doing community relations work for a Republican Michigan state senator. By this point we would plan a get-together every month or two, just to tear off each other’s clothing and spend a weekend in each other’s close company.

I faintly remember at the end of the most recent such weekend being hunched over the hood of her small, white car of an unremembered make trying to pry a drive belt back onto a drive pulley, sweat dripping onto the air filter compartment, and ripping my hand open on the engine block. I think I might still have the scar. Cutting the unloosed belt was not something I would even have thought of as a solution, then or or now.

I was living in the “Rock and Roll Household” with Keith W., Mike B., and the famous rock critic and future band front man, Mark R. D., (then a recent alumnus of the “knee-jerk” liberal Michigan State News) for whom Kim suggests George Will as a role model.

I am grateful that in my life I have been congratulated much more often for becoming a father than for not becoming one. But in 1984 (not ’83, as Kim absently datestamps) I certainly would not have felt so.

Buuku Bucks

Posted in 1994, Loves, Rebecca by southpawcom on March 6, 2012

The state senator I had worked for for the past two years surprised his staff and other observers by announcing that  he would not seek re-election in 1994. That left me in the fall of that year thinking somewhat stricken with panic about my future. And what I thought was that it would be neato to own a travel agency.

I had some money coming to me from a going-away package from the Senate, and I also thought I had a credit line as trustee of mom’s estate. Without spending a whole lot of time researching the subject and with positively no experience in the travel and hospitality industry, I reached out to a company called Uniglobe, a franchisor of travel agencies. I remember spending an hour or two in a creepy guy’s poorly-lighted hotel room on Lansing’s west side, the room air still heavy with the steam from his morning shower, listening to his sales pitch and looking at the sales literature he brought. He asked a lot of questions, but soon it became apparent, to him at least, that I lacked the capital to make a go of opening a Uniglobe franchise in Lansing.

I think shortly afterward I got a letter from Uniglobe headquarters saying that they regretted shattering my dream but I was not the well-heeled investor they were looking for.

It was not long after this that the Internet happened, and everyone started making their travel arrangements themselves online through Pricline and Travelocity. I just checked, and Uniglobe is still out there, but I wonder if their cost-to-earnings ratios and profit margins are the same as they were in those brochures in 1994, before William Shatner and the gnome started taking our reservations.

I’m just grateful I didn’t give anything more than 45 mins and the time it took to write this blog post…

Bec, now equipped with a couple of kids, writes with encouragement, not as much for going into business but for continuing to write. Sadly devoid of any pen flourishes or whimsy save her signature and closing with a queer sequence of letters and special characters she called her “e-mail address,” her letter foreshadows the demise of the art of letter-writing.It reminds me of how Nazi officers begin to replace the bohemians at the guest tables at the end of the movie, Cabaret.

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.

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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