Home Economics and Shop Class

Philadelphia, PA – 1975

If life wasn’t bad enough for me at Fels Junior High, I felt that it was about to get worse. Puberty had erupted all over my body. I was a lousy student, had bad skin, hair, glasses, braces, clothes, etc. I should have just walked around with a target on me so that the bullies, teachers, and parents could always have a clear shot at me. I felt like such a loser.

But it wasn’t all bad. I still had my comic books, my friends, my art ability, and my music. Like everybody else, I’d just have to make the best of it.

But one of the interesting things that happened at Fels was that they finally broke a 20-year tradition at the school. For the first time in two decades, they decided to change things up when it came to certain gender-specific classes they offered at the school.

In 1975 they decided that instead of only boys taking wood and metal shop, now girls would be offered those courses as well. But, that meant boys would have to take cooking and sewing classes.

At first, the boys were outraged that they would be forced to do “girl stuff”. But once we got into it, somehow it wasn’t all that bad.

Former Fels HS building to be demolished - Northeast Times

But before I begin, let me just get a few things out of the way. I’ll tell you what I remember about a couple of the teachers at this school.

Mrs. Lipschutz was my homeroom teacher. When you pronounce her name it sounds like something else. Legend has it that one time she was reprimanding some kid for talking in class and his response was, “If your lip shits, my ass talks!” It’s a juvenile but clever play on words even for a 12-year-old kid.

There was another teacher there who taught algebra named Mr. Dordick. Can you imagine having that as a name working in a junior high school?

There was also a geography teacher there named Mr. Kubell up in room 318. The class was boring to me because all we learned about was Europe. I would always turn to the back of my textbook and read about Australia because it seemed way cooler than anything we were currently learning in class. There was also a story about how Mr. Kubell had been in the military and suffered from shell shock, but I don’t know if there is any validity to that tale.

I had a reading teacher named Miss Ruscoff that I really liked. I was always an avid reader and did well in her class. She actually got married and her new name was Mrs. Dembitzer. My favorite thing about that class was when she brought out an old reel to reel tape player. Every Friday we would listen to old radio shows from the ’40s and 50s. Shows like Suspense and X Minus 1. This was an art form that was before my time. I grew up in a world with television. But I LOVED listening to these old radio shows. They were all based on short stories and acted out in studios and played on the radio back in the day.  What I loved about this medium was that you had to use your imagination. Something I had a surplus of in my brain. On TV and movies, it’s all set up for you. But on the radio, you have to picture the scene using only the actor’s voices and the use of sound effects. To this day, I still tune into Radio Classics on Sirius XM satellite radio and listen to these types of old shows. They still hold up to this day and make you use your mind in a different way than you do to consume the entertainment we’re inundated with now.

Another teacher that was beloved at that school was a gentleman named Mr. DiDonato. I think my sister had him as a teacher but I never did. I just remember him being a really nice guy that had the only class that taught something groundbreaking in school. Computers!

I had a couple of good science teachers as well. Sadly I don’t remember their names, but I remember their words. Science class was always one of my favorites.

Anyway, back to the vocational switch.

The first class the boys in my grade were placed into was a sewing course. At first, it was odd to be in a class like that, and I think a bit unsettling to the teachers. But, once we got going on the fundamentals of sewing it was a really cool class. I think the guys would agree with me on this one. I remember the teacher passed out sheets of lined paper to everyone in the class. We all sat at our sewing machines and learned how to operate the motor and see if we could sew in a straight line along the lines on the paper. A solid exercise before touching any fabric.

She also taught us all of the parts of the sewing machine. Remember how you could lean your thigh against that little metal arm that came down and the motor would accelerate so you could sew like lightning? It was kind of cool.

What I liked best about that class was that you were learning something new and working with your hands. Not just sitting in a boring class listening to some old person talk and reading words in a book. Then being tested on the stuff you read. It was really all about memory and never generating any new ideas. Just boring to me.

But in sewing class, you worked through a project that had a beginning, middle, and an end. We all made shirts! I remember you measured and designed the shirt, then cut it into pieces. The final bit was to sew it all together and then turn it inside out so that all of the seams were on the inside. Boom! You just made yourself a shirt. I loved that!

I even enjoyed cooking class. It wasn’t as fun as sewing class but we made some cool things. Mostly baked goods, but it gave us some great fundamentals for life.

I kind of wish junior high had been more like this. Not every kid is suited to sitting in class after class of boring textbook memory stuff. What if it had been half and half? What if every kid was assessed to what their abilities were? If a kid wasn’t good with the schoolwork stuff, give him more classes where he can use his hands. Teach them the basics. Math, science, reading, and history, but lean their curriculum a bit more towards making things. I think the kids would have been happier and there would be less dissent in the classrooms in junior high. It’s a tumultuous time in every child’s life.

I realize now that most kids that were bullies to me were probably getting the crap kicked out of them by older siblings and their parents at home. Maybe if these children could be given the opportunity to have courses that were more suited to their needs they’d act out less. Give them support and activities where they could work out their negative energy and turn it into making something good. Something they could be proud of. Maybe a little hope that things could change for them. But I could be wrong.

Another class I had was ceramics. Everybody’s first project was a pinch pot. Just an exercise to get our hands accustomed to working with pottery. I had already had years of experience working with clay, so I immediately adapted to the task at hand. My second project was a cool ashtray that I ended up using for years until it finally broke.

I heard funny stories from kids in metal shop that worked on their assignments but also made shurikens. (Asian throwing stars) Which I thought was so cool. I loved the TV show, Kung Fu and would have loved to have made one of those things. What boy wouldn’t? I never had metal shop, but it seemed like another awesome class. It’s probably for the best because with my luck I would have ended up putting some kid’s eye out. I was in enough trouble on a regular basis without any lethal weapons on hand.

Shurikens - Silver | The Specialists LTD

I finally did end up in woodshop and I really enjoyed working on my projects. It was cool to work with such powerful equipment far beyond anything we had in our toolboxes in our basements. I really learned a lot in that class, and I think my peers would agree with me.

I actually still have the little creation I made in that class 45 years ago. It’s been nearly half a century, and it still looks just as it did so many years ago.

A few pieces of wood glued together and then sanded and planed into a  shark. Something I could be proud of that came from a time of such pain. The finished work, something elegant that had been carved by sharp, dangerous objects. It mirrored my own existence in junior high. 

So, even though I had a tough time in junior high, I’m glad I went through it. As painful and awkward as it could be at times, we all experienced it together. For better or worse, it’s all part of our collective history now.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Back The Tracks – Part 2 – On The Rails

Philadelphia, PA – The early 70s

I remember reading Stephen King’s book, Different Seasons many years later than the events described here. There was that one story entitled, The Body. It always reminded me of how it was when I hung out with my friends when we were young. It was later made into the film, Stand By Me. That story hits as about as close as anything we experienced as kids.

Having a place that was wild and uncivilized adjacent to our picture-perfect neighborhood was always a lure. I remember as a little boy my dad and I would sometimes go back the tracks and cross them over into the woods that lay on the other side. He would puff his cigar and we’d chat and go on a short explore.

There was a fallen tree that lay at the edge of the woods and we would always go back and visit it. I used to call it the whale shark, because it was large, grey, and looked like a fallen marine leviathan. It was fat at one end and broken which resembled a mouth. Along the tapering back of the wooden beast, was a thick broken branch that jutted upward that resembled a huge dorsal fin.

I still like the smell of cigars to this day because they remind me of my time with my father.

I was later told a story that when my older sister and I were really little, dad was carrying us down the embankment that led to the tracks. He was going to take us over to the other side to run around and play in the fields. He had lost his footing on the embankment and started to fall. As he slipped down the hill, he held us both aloft as he took the full brunt of the fall. He got a little banged up, but we both walked away without a scratch.

A classic tale of a lion protecting his cubs.

Let’s proceed with this chapter.

We’d line up all of the bottles and cans we could find on the rails and have contests to see who could break the most by throwing rocks at them. If a train approached you simply ran for cover. There were so many stories back then about the tracks. Horror stories. Like if you stood too close to a speeding freight train the force could suck you under the wheels and you’d surely be squished. We saw what a train could do to a penny if you put it on the rail when a train went by. It would completely flatten and stretch the penny thin. I heard all sorts of terrible tales and legends from other kids about the perils of the train tracks.

There were three sets of rails. The furthest was for the commuter passenger trains, the middle track was for utility purposes and passing, and the main rail closest to us was only for freight trains.

Some other horror stories I heard were gruesome. The story of the two boys who wanted to make a cable car that ran across the tracks from one embankment to the other. They held onto a metal cable and attempted to toss it across to the other side. The cable hit the high wires that the pantagraphs of the passenger trains used for power. Once the metal cable touched the high wires the kids’ bodies burned all the weeds as their dead bodies rolled down the hill.

What is Pantograph? How they are used in Electric Rail Engines? | by Shubhranshu Mishra | Medium

Or, the one about the kid who stepped into between the switch track and the main rail. It snapped shut crushing his foot and trapping him where he remained until he was later run over by a train and killed.

Railroad switch - Wikipedia

Or, this kid who urinated off a bridge and the urine hit the high wire, and voltage traveled up the stream and into his “lightning rod” and electrocuted him. There are 25,000 volts traveling through those overhead wires all day long.

I remember a tragic story where there were a few boxcars just sitting on the middle track on their own. Some kids climbed onto them to explore. One kid was standing on top of the boxcar and his head hit the high wire, and he sadly lost his life. I didn’t know the boy, but it was a terrible day for his friends and family. It showed us all how fragile life can be at any age.

You tell those kinds of stories to little boys and that hits hard. We were very careful playing back the tracks. But it never stopped us from going there and our parents were cool letting us play back there on the tracks all of the time. But life was full of danger for kids back then. But all we thought of was “I”. Invincible. Immune. Indestructible. Immortal.

But not all of us were so lucky back then.

You can read about another poor soul by clicking here:

Innocence Lost

It was so cool. You’re 10 years old, probably weigh around 60 lbs. tops. You’re small and light. You’d be back the tracks playing with your friends and then you’d hear a distant rumbling. If you were lucky, you saw the train coming in the distance. As an unspoken rule, anyone who saw a train coming instinctively yelled, “Train!” to alert his tribe. We all cleared out of there and found cover.

Normally, it was incredibly quiet back there, but when the train approached and roared by at full speed it was an absolute spectacle. The sheer size, speed, and power of that machine were incredible to witness. You see trains in the distance and see them in movies and on TV, but when you’re standing 10 feet from a speeding freight train, it’s like a giant Precambrian monster has come to claim you all. The noise was deafening and you could actually see the rails move up and down across the railroad ties from the sheer weight of the passing freight cars. We would always all stand quietly and let the behemoth pass. Powerless to do anything. Counting each freight car as it passed, sometimes losing count, but most times the number exceeded 100 cars long.

Our parents told us that the first rail went to New York. That always seemed cool to me. There was my little neighborhood on the edge of forever. I could walk down my street and cross Hasbrook Avenue and head back to the lot. We’d walk down the embankment that had long ago been carved out by men who built the railroad. I’d look down the rails and know that it was a direct line to New York. I lived in Philly but had no real concept of the size of the city. Just what I saw when my mom would take me into town. I got on a passenger train (Reading line) with her at the Cheltenham station by Martins Mill road, and off we went. When the doors opened again I’d be in the Reading Terminal in center city. We might as well stepped into a time machine back then. You get in, close the door, and appear somewhere else that looks completely different from your usual surroundings. All tall buildings and bustling people.

My father used to say, “You have to pay attention in school and make something of yourself so you don’t end up like one of those guys in Reading Terminal.” (Homeless, bums, panhandlers, etc.) Funny how back then it was like that. Now Suburban Station is the main hub because the trains no longer go to Reading Terminal. That place is now a thriving open market that’s a thriving tourist destination. Now, I’d love to end up like one of the guys in Reading Terminal. A successful business owner! How things change.

But the idea you could follow that straight train track to New York always intrigued me. What if there was some way we could board one of the boxcars and stowaway to Manhattan? A simple thing like that. Just kids who grew up on the right street near such power and might beyond the trees.

I always liked the notion of living in a quiet peaceful neighborhood. It was clean and safe. But just beyond the end of our block was something wild and dangerous.

But it belonged to us.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

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One Slip…

Philadelphia, PA – 1969

I was 7 years old and in 2nd grade at Lawndale school. My teacher was Mrs. Koffler. She was like any other lady. When you’re really young anyone older than 12 years old looks like an adult. But I suspect Mrs. Koffler was in her mid to late twenties. A plain girl. Cat glasses with her straight blonde hair pulled straight back in a ponytail. Neatly dressed in the style of the day. Conservative sweaters and blouses, and always a nice skirt. She preferred patterns to solids. Always wore nude colored pantyhose. Comfortable shoes adorned her feet. Flats on most days. I suppose being on your feet much of the day dealing with a roomful of kids would tire any person out.

I remember Mrs. Koffler would sit at the front of the class and read to us sometimes. I remember she would sit cross-legged. I would be listening to the story with the other students and admire her legs. She was a young lady and I’m paying attention to the story, but her legs were distracting me.

I remember on occasion I would sometimes drop my crayon or pencil on the floor so I could bend down under my desk to pick it up, all the while stealing a glance at her well-turned gams.

Funny how you like certain things even as a young boy. You’re too young to even have any thoughts or actions in regard to sex. I know I didn’t find Mrs. Koffler attractive and didn’t even really like her. But I would still check out her legs. Odd, how things fire in the mind even when you’re very young. It doesn’t mean anything, but it’s still a vision you find pleasing.

I was a bright kid but found school in general an enormous bore. It felt more like a prison to me.

It was the time of day for us to do art. Which meant all sorts of supplies appear and an assignment given. I was always surprised that even art was structured in school. You got assignments. I get it. Draw a nice picture and give it to your parents to hang on the fridge. It’s Thanksgiving. Trace your hand and we’ll make it a turkey.

The one thing they never teach in school is creativity. Because they can’t. They can only give you exercises to develop it. Because they can’t do it and don’t even know what it really is. They’re just the hired help. You either have creativity or you don’t.

So, we’re all making something at our little desks with cloth felt and construction paper and Elmers glue. I always like Elmer’s glue. My favorite thing to do with it was to pour a small amount into my hand and spread it out across my palm. I would wait for it to dry and it became like an extra epidermis on my palm. I would slowly peel it off, and I felt like a snake molting its skin. I noticed that the glue made a beautiful impression on my tiny hand. I could see every detail of my palm on the sheet of dried glue. It even felt like skin when dry. I could see the fingerprints and everything perfectly. I used to wonder if this type of glue would ever have any practical applications for law enforcement or forensics. But what did I know? I was just playing with something I should have been slathering on the back of a piece of colored paper so I could affix it to something else. It was non-toxic so no one would die if they ate it. (Which I have done. It’s quite good and not nearly as salty a delicacy as Play-Doh)

I was nearly finished with my little mandatory art project and got up from my desk to throw away some scraps of paper. Maybe I was distracted by the ethereal beauty of my classmate, the lovely Donna McHugh with her blonde wavy hair and ice-blue eyes. But somehow as I rounded a desk I slipped on a piece of felt that had fallen to the floor along with other artistic detritus.

My head struck the edge of one of the desks, just between the suborbital foramen and the margin. (My left eyebrow)

I don’t remember actually striking the desk or any pain. I just remember someone getting me to my feet and walking me out of the class. (I think it was room 6) I was with this person, (Maybe Mrs. Koffler?) and I saw something I never saw before. As we walked down the hallway along the polished light hardwood floor, I watched as drops of bright red blood dripped away from my face and struck the floor. Big drops. Just every few feet as we quickly moved along. Drip….drip….drip.

We got to the school nurse’s office and whoever brought me in left. I simply obeyed the nurse’s orders. I wasn’t frightened. I wasn’t in any pain really. I just laid down on the little cot. I felt the white butcher paper crunch under me. I just wondered why would someone put paper on a bed.

She went to work on me with bandages and compression. My brow was apparently split open in a nasty gash. I never saw it and I suppose that’s a good thing. I’ve seen blood before. No big deal. Boys are always getting banged up in everyday life. It’s part of having wild fun. I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t see it because maybe that’s when the fear may have crept in.

I’m assuming they called my mother first. She didn’t drive so I’m sure she then called my father who worked at the Provident National Bank over on Cottman street.

I remember lying on the little cot when my father walked into the nurse’s office. He was wearing his overcoat and of course his hat. My father always wore a hat. He wore a hat beyond when it was no longer fashionable. He stayed right in the late sixties with his style. He told me that if he wore his style long enough it would come back again. (It later did!)

It was weird to see my father at school. Only moms haunted the school. Not dads. They were all at work every day.

The nurse had stopped the bleeding and had me bandaged up pretty good. My father lifted me up into his arms and carried me out of the school. I liked being carried by my dad. You feel safe in your dad’s arms. His cold coat. His rough face. His aftershave. All safe and familiar. Strong. He’s going to take care of this.

He carried me outside and put me in the back seat of the VW minibus. He asked that I lie down and be still, but hold on. I don’t know how long the ride was. Everything seems long when you’re little. Time is a crazy thing when you’re young. But time is relative. If you’re 50 years old and something’s going to happen in 6 months, that’s no time at all based on how long you’ve been on Earth. But if you were 5 years old and someone told you that Christmas was 6 months away, that’s 1/10 of your entire life. That feels like forever!

Anyway, we get to the hospital. I don’t remember going in or anything about the place. Just that everything was bright white. They laid me down on a bigger bed. (More butcher paper) The doctor came in and looked at my head. I remember him saying he was going to give me a few stitches. I’d never seen stitches except on the Frankenstein monster in the movies. Would it be a long black line, with shorter lines going across it like in a cartoon? Is that what they really looked like?

I know my dad stayed in the room the whole time. I remember looking up while the doctor went to work on me. He had a curved needle and thread. I guess my head had been hurting and the tiny little pricks really didn’t bother me at all for some reason. You’d think with my anxiety I’d have been freaking out, but anxiety is the fear of what might happen. This already happened. The doctor was just patching me up. I felt totally calm.

The doctor told me that he had put 12 stitches in my head.

It didn’t take long, and within no time my dad was taking me out of there. I don’t remember if I sat up or laid down on the way home.

Whenever any of the kids in the family had a cold they obviously stayed home from school. Sure you were coughing and sneezing and were just generally uncomfortable. But the cool thing was, we had a convertible sofa in our living room. We never used it for guests. We only used it when the kids were sick. My mom would open it up, prop up the head, and grab some pillows and a blanket. It was right in front of the TV. So getting sick wasn’t really that bad. getting your temperature taken and eating gross medicine was a bit unpleasant, but you got to watch TV all day and not go to school. Oh, and your mom waits on you hand and foot. Brilliant day.

Soup. Toast. All the fixings!

So, dad gets me home and my mom already has the sickbed ready. I got in my pajamas and hopped right in. I had a bandage on my head so my sisters couldn’t see my injury or my stitches. I remember it being described as a little black eyebrow above my real one.

Everyone was making a fuss over me and I was happy to be home. I just relaxed on the bed with my two sisters around me in the room as we watched TV.

I guess my dad had left for a short while because for about a half-hour I didn’t see him. But he soon returned and handed me a big bag. I opened it and inside it was a box full of little plastic spacemen! They were red white and blue and in all different positions. (Just like army men) I was very grateful to receive such a bounty. It wasn’t Christmas. I had simply slipped and busted my head open.

“Charles was so brave today. He never cried and laid perfectly still during the entire process. I’m really proud of him.”

I’ll never forget that.

Physical pain isn’t so bad. It’s mental cruelty and wickedness at the hands of others that make me cry. That’s an enduring pain.

A week or so later they took me to our local doctor. Dr. Alexander removed the stitches once the wound had completely healed. “The other doctor said he gave you 12 stitches, well  I just took out 13,” he said.

Seems like a more appropriate number in regard to what had happened to me that day. The doctor did a terrific job on my injury that day. The scar is so light you’d never know I had one. I’d have to bring up the story and show it to you.

And if we ever meet, I will.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

George – The Rugged Outdoorsman – Part 1

I was having a tough time in middle school. The year was 1977. I didn’t like school or any other part of my life back then. I was a smart kid, but school just wasn’t my thing. To me it was simply happy hunting grounds for bullies and teachers alike.

However, I did have artistic ability and my parents signed me up for Saturday morning art classes at a high school across town. I would take the 26 bus north on Rising Sun avenue to Cottman street, and then get a transfer for the Y bus east up to Northeast High school.

Times were so bad for me that I have few memories from junior high. I think I’ve blocked most of them out to cope and grow as a person. I was skinny, had bad skin, greasy hair, glasses, braces, no athletic ability, and was getting bad grades. For some reason my mom made me wear polyester slacks and black leather buckle shoes to school. All of the other kids wore more casual clothes. I stood out like a sore, swollen, pimple faced, tinsel toothed, thumb.  I was basically a target for anyone who wanted to use me as an object of their scorn.

Just horrible.

It’s funny, when you’re that age and ravaged by puberty, many of your friends suffer from the same ailments. I always had a few loyal friends.

I brought nothing to the table back then, and take responsibility for anything I did, or didn’t do. But I can see now why I was such an enormous disappointment to my parents.

So every weekend, I would go to Saturday Morning Art Classes each week at Northeast High. There was a nice group of kids in attendance, and I met a few of them.

It was a welcome repose from my tortured daily life. It was a pretty laid back experience full of kids like me who enjoyed making art. The structure was loose and creative. I think the teacher’s name was Mr. Gilper. He was a talented, chill dude and always had cool projects for us to create.

They would play the radio during class and I thought that was cool. Back in the Seventies the two big rock stations in Philadelphia were WMMR and WYSP. Now only WMMR remains, but it’s become an incredible bore like most terrestrial radio stations in America. They played most of the popular rock songs of the day, and WMMR did the same, but played a bit more deep tracks. So, if you were a music fan, WMMR was the cooler station. I think DJ Pierre Robert worked there back then and he’s still there to this day.

I met this boy named George and we shared a passion for comics and rock music. He was a nice, gentle kid with kind eyes. I remembered that he liked how I made my own comics and created my own team of superheroes. Deneb-6, Lazar, Midnightess, Cestus, Prince Apollo, and The Prowler come to mind. I can still envision those characters.

We got along well enough, but once the classes were finished, I didn’t see him anymore. He was my art class friend.

I remember one Saturday I came out of class and they were holding a flea market in the parking lot. I browsed the usual junk people were selling at their tables. I saw this one guy had a box of comic books for sale. I had some cash on me, so I bought a few choice books the guy had. There were more that I wanted because I was an avid reader and collector of good comics. I basically spent all the money I had in my wallet on comics with this guy. (Like, $10.)

I got home and showed my dad what I had gotten and that there were more good books there. So my dad being awesome, put me in the car and we went back up there and we got the rest of the books I wanted. The guy had many first issues and I knew they were more valuable than what he was selling them for. My dad was a hard core toy train collector and so he understood my urgency. So that ended up being a great day!

I was 14 in 1977 and in 9th grade, which thankfully was my last year at Fel’s Junior High School. The nightmare was ending and next year I’d be attending Frankford High School. I used to describe 9th grade as the worst year of my life back then. But, that summer turned out to be the year I went from caterpillar to butterfly and everything changed for the better.

Wildwood Daze – Summer of 1977 – El Morro Motel

There are more great tales from that summer, but it was a watershed moment in my life. You can find the rest of them in the Search bar under Wildwood Daze. (See: El Morro Motel, Terri,  & Anna Marie)

Anyway, you get the idea. So I get to Frankford High in the Fall of 1977, and the world is a better place for me. It felt like all of the animals who tormented me in junior high all went to Northeast High. Frankford was filled with a better group of kids.

I don’t remember if I ran into George in 10th grade or 11th grade at Frankford. But for this story let’s say 11th grade because it’s the most memorable.

I was 16 now and everything in my life was better. I was getting better grades, my braces were off, I wore cool shirts and jeans to school. My mom let me grow my hair. I was lead singer in a rock band, and my level of cool had gone way up over the Summer.

I was sitting in English class one day and noticed this guy sitting just one seat ahead of me of to my right.

It was George from Saturday Morning Art Classes! By that time, it seemed like a world away. I think he recognized me first and we connected. We shared that class, lunch and gym.

We would draw funny comics about our lives. Not our real lives but a world where we were these cool dudes who played rock and got all the chicks. I mean, in real life I sang in a band and was teaching myself how to play guitar.

You can read the complete saga if you enter the word Renegade in the Search bar.

Renegade – 1978 to 1979 – Chapter 5 – The Sears Silvertone

George and I would have so much fun laughing at all of our little exploits in our comics. (I still have them all on sheets of notepaper!) We also started having lunch together. I had come such a long way from the little weasel I once was in junior high. I had become friends with the most powerful student in the school. This guy Chris, who my sister Janice had known since 1st grade. He sat across from me in art class. He was not only president of the student body, but quarterback on the champion football team. But he wasn’t a jock. He had all these powers but liked music and had a bunch of nerd friends, and he and I connected immediately. He and my sister were a grade ahead of me, but he took a liking to me and my sense of humor.

So my friend George and I got to sit at the end of the cool kid’s lunch table everyday at 5th period lunch. It was like just a couple of regular guys who got to sit at a table full of celebrities. It all seems funny now, but it was just football stars and hot cheerleaders. But in high school that’s a coveted spot to be in. High School is like a little fictional world you get to act out for a few years before entering real life. It mirrors adult life in some ways, but none of it has any real sustainability for the rest of your real life. I always felt like high school was a show I was on and it lasted three seasons before my character was killed off and I had to move on and find a new gig.

So George and I happily munched our peanut and butter and jelly sandwiches at the end of this table. Not card carrying members, just a couple of B-rate extras.

But, we started to hang out a little bit outside of school. I don’t even know where George lived. I never went to his house. I know he liked to go fishing.

He would come to my house and I think he brought his guitar with him. I was pretty clueless, in regard to the instrument but was eager to learn in the Spring of 1978. I was just the singer in the band, but the guitarist would let me play three notes on the break during the song, Draw the Line, by Aerosmith. (My favorite band on Earth.)

But George could actually play, and he started to show me things on the guitar. I knew where the notes were on the neck of the guitar, but needed some rock n’ roll fundamentals. George had these huge hands and he could reach from the first fret to the sixth, which is basically impossible for most people. It gave him the ability to create complex riff runs that would be unique to his playing.

I was struggling to pull the concepts of the guitar together even though I had a head for music and an excellent ear. I had some books with sheet music and chords in them, and George showed me how to read and follow them. Technically not read music, but enough to understand it.

Sidebar here: Someone once asked one half of the two greatest composers of the 20th century about how he wrote such incredible songs. He stated that he never learned how to read or write music in the traditional way. “I never understood all of those little lines and dots.” he said. “My music simply comes forth from my heart and my head.”

That man was Paul McCartney.

One of the hardest things for a new guitarist to do is to create the muscle memory to hold a chord in place. All of your fingers have to be on the right strings and you have to press them down with enough pressure so that the chord rings and doesn’t sound muted or buzzes against the frets. It’s a difficult feat and takes a while to learn and master. You have to train your mind to get your fingers to just automatically land on the right strings in the right formation to make the right sound. Once you get the chord right and the smile appears on your face, you feel like you’re getting it, and it’s a wonderful feeling. But then you go to move your hand to hit another chord and the whole thing falls apart.

It’s like being a baby and taking your first steps. One step… two steps… oops! Then you fall down. You get up and keep taking steps over and over, and the next thing you know you’re running down the street. Same thing works for learning the guitar. (Or, probably anything in life!)

So, George realized I was a neophyte, and simplified the process for me. He taught me a super basic way to get it done with less fingers and still achieve the same sound.

That style that he taught me, is the basis for twelve bar blues. The boogie woogie chord, he used to call it. With my index finger and ring finger he showed me how to play the chord in a simplified manner. He also taught me how the blues worked and the chord progressions. How certain notes went together. What he was teaching me as we sat in my bedroom, was the foundation of all rock music.

George taught me how to play the blues.

Once I understood what sixth route and fifth route was, I was on my way. That was the evolutionary leap I needed to go forward. I don’t know if I ever told him, but in that moment, George was literally the monolith and I was the ape in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I swear to god… it was on that level. That evolutionary leap.

What George taught me on those afternoons, catapulted my music creativity. The first thing I did, once I understood the basics of rock was to start writing songs. They were simple, and sounded like Ramones songs, but it had begun. My rock and roll life as a musician began thanks to George Schauer.

I know in high school he always thought I was cool, because I knew some hot chicks and had art and humor going. But the boy that gave me his friendship and time were more valuable than anything else in my life at that time.

Thanks to George, when I put that guitar on and started actually playing songs by Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, and the Rolling Stones, I had become part of a secret club. Little did I know that my friend who I knew from Saturday morning art classes and English class, had become my mentor.

Once I learned the fundamentals, the rest fell into place and because of my love of the instrument and the music. From what George taught me took me from novice, to rhythm guitarist in the band Union Jacks six months later!

That fifth and six route basic style were the building blocks to some of the heavier riff driven stuff I would go on to write and perform in my future bands. Yes, the building blocks to my heavy metal sound.

I’m sure George didn’t know what he had given me. But he actually gave me his post prized possession.

His time.

That’s the greatest gift you can give someone, because once you give it, you can never get it back.

Thank you, George. You changed my life.

 

After 11th grade my family moved and I had to take my senior year at Wildwood High, which is documented in this blog. (See: Wildwood Daze)

I never saw or heard from George again.

Until now…

 

More tomorrow!

 

 

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Eileen – Chapter 17 – Farewell My Love

Eileen has been an absolute delight to have as an employee at the salon.

She’s 18 and gorgeous. I’m actually surprised I got her.

She called to see if we needed help and I was desperate. She came in dressed to the nines and looked 23. I texted Achilles immediately for where the hell the job applications were.

She called and I really needed help but when I saw her and had to have her.

She was immediately hired, and she took to the salon like it was her own.

I liked that she had a natural knack to service. She’s a hostess at an Olive Garden back at home inn St Louis in the summer. I have found the perfect employee.

Eileen has been amazing in every way at this salon. Achilles is free of the bullshit of staffing and I am bringing him his best.

Eileen is amazing and is the perfect employee that’s always on time. I manage her schedule and Achilles doesn’t have to deal with it. I do this all summer long.

How bad is my life? I kill it at the salon and work with the best girls in the world.

I feed and reward a good staff.

My girls kill it for me. I make the salon my own. They will heave free food and drinks whenever they desire.

Eileen is in a relationship with a boy back in St Louis. They wear promise rings. I take Eileen out on weekly dates to piss him off. It’s funny, because as much rage as Thomas feels, it’s unfounded. I am simply rewarding the fine work I’m getting from Eileen. She’s fantastic and one of the greatest hires I’ve ever had.

Thomas needs to cool his jets and know that I’m not some creepy old guy after his girl but a dad who adores his staff and takes good care of them.

Thomas has been angry lately. He thinks I’m a pervert. I like that. Be worried, child. I am simply rewarding a couple of great ladies for kicking ass during our busiest season.

Eileen and Amelia are the greatest employees we’ve ever had. I adore them both,

I’m honored they’re both in my life.

Ease up dude.

Eileen is a great girl you should honor because she’s amazing and forget about me.

I just loved being with her because she’s amazing.

“I’m not after her. I love the great work she did for me. Settle down, Thomas.”

Eileen is going back to St Louis and her work is done here.

She came in to see us and say goodbye, but it’s bittersweet, because we’re not just losing the Spring help. I’m losing Eileen. One of the best employees I’ve ever had.

But I have to understand. She has to go home. She’s worked so hard on her studies in Criminal Justice at Drexel and given her all here at the salon.

I dream of employees of Eileen and Amelia. We’ve been blessed this season.

I have loved working with both of these wonderful women, and enjoyed my time with them.

Eileen was mostly food and Amelia was more about cocktails, but I love that.

Help has been the major challenge at this company, but I have eradicated that problem with these two wonderful people.

I’ll miss my time with Eileen. She has been a delight to work with. Her personality, her dress code and service have always been first rate. She’s a lovely, smart girl that always looked great for work, and treated the clients with such great hospitality.

I trained she and Amelia and they were both on point.

It made life at the salon so much better during our busy season.

The clients don’t care, they just want to get their base on. But the girls have been amazing and innovative to keep everybody happy. That’s I how I trained them.

I miss Eileen already.

She boarded a jet back home for the summer. She works at Olive Garden as a hostess in her home town. She’s already asked me for a raise when she comes back.

Future lawyer.

I love her.

She texted Amelia and myself when she was going home and said she would miss us.

I know she’ll be missed far more by Amelia and I.

Can’t wait to see our friend again.

 

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