The Man Cave

The Man Cave
Jack's Man Cave (Click on the photo to enter the Cave)
Showing posts with label Memoir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Memoir. Show all posts

Sunday, October 11, 2020

There Is a Light That Never Goes Out


There is a Light That Never Goes Out 

Can you go back and fix your biggest regret?


You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby

The other day I was lying on the couch in the Man Cave, feeling sorry for myself because the San Diego Padres just lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL2020  playoffs.

My thoughts turned to some of the things I regret in my life, the missed opportunities, and the terrible decisions I made.

If only I could go back in time to fix things.

Is It Really So Strange?

Suddenly, the comedian George Carlin appeared in the bar stool chair. 

"George Carlin, what the hell ...?" I asked.

"The powers that be sent me here to give you a chance to travel back in time to fix one of those regrets you're always stewing on," said George Carlin, rolling his eyes upward to indicate who the "powers that be" was.

"Are you serious?" I asked.

"Serious as November 4th," said George. Then he said:

"Let's have it. To when and where are you going back in time?"

Well I Wonder

George was dressed the same way as he was in the movie  "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," a movie I've never seen.  He wore a trench coat, his hair was slicked back, and he wore dark wraparound glasses.

"Mr. Carlin . . ."

"Call me George," he said.

"George, I have a million questions," I said.

"Look, don't belabor this, buddy.  Let's get to the fun part of the story," said George.

"I know, I know.  But let me ask you a few questions."

"Okay. Shoot."

"I've never seen 'Bill and Ted,' . . .are you like an Archangel, or are you, God?' I asked.

"I'm sort of like an angel today.  I'm an anthropomorphic representation of your own psyche.  They said I'm as good a representation of how screwed up, cynical, and sarcastic you are, except I'm way more funny and talented, and I did a lot more drugs.  They were thinking about sending Anna Nicole Smith, or Chris Farley, but they were both working on other projects."

"Is this another one of my funny life stories that Hollywood has already stolen?  Like all my tales that I tell down here in San Diego that somehow seep up there to that cesspool and get watered down and put into movie scripts," I asked.

"Yeah, that's it. That's exactly right," says George sarcastically, rolling his eyes.   "Jesus, you really are a buffoon. You think the whole world revolves around you? Are you really that bitter about the Dodgers?  The Padres just need better pitching."

"If I go back and change events, does it change the whole course and trajectory of future events?" I asked.

"No.  This is just a vanity project for you.  You're gonna go back to see what would have happened if you had done the right thing and not F'd up as royally as you did the first time. But the fact you screwed up royally in real life will remain unchanged when you come back here to the couch."

"Oh my God.  Is that supposed to somehow make me feel better? I already know I F'd up?"

"Look, Sunshine, the clock is ticking.  If I just snap my fingers, I'll be out of this weird bric-a-brac  "Fortress of Solitude" Man Cave thing you got going here."

The Boy With the Thorn In His Side

"Can I have a day to think about where I want to go back in time?" I asked

"No. You gotta decide now. Chop-chop," said George Carlin.

"I have so many regrets.  Which one should I choose?" I asked George Carlin.

"Choose the regret that causes you the most pain.  Get it out of your system," said George.

"Should I go back to the Rosarito Beach Hotel in Mexico to fix . . ."

"No! Not that one.  Let sleeping dogs lie!" said George.

"How about Vegas?  That time I wore the Elvis costume, and I got in those two car accidents on the same night?"  

"No.  That one actually panned out in the end if you look at the big picture. Wasn't there a lawsuit after that one, where you got some money?  The money to pay for your wedding ring?"

"Yeah, I did," I admitted.

"That's a net gain," said George.

"Can I take someone with me on the trip?  There's someone who needs to go back with me for this one. This is the biggest regret in his life too." I asked.

"No. But you'll see him there."

"Will Tracy know which regret I went back to fix?

"Only if you tell her," said George.

"Because she'll be pissed if she finds out I didn't go back to fix one of the stupid things I did  . . . during our time together," I said.

"Better keep your mouth shut then.  Let's go, you gotta decide now!" said George.

"You know what I'm gonna go back and do, don't you?"

"I've got a pretty good idea. Statistically, there's one thing you dwell on all the time.  In fact, it shocked me to see how much you fixate on such a stupid and trivial . . "  George caught himself, "I mean, really important event in your life."

"Okay.  I'm ready.  Take me back to 1986!"

This Charming Man

In an instant, I'm standing outside the San Diego State Open Air Amphitheater on a warm dusky summer evening.  A big crowd of high school and college-aged kids are milling around, excited for a concert about to begin inside.

"Luis!  Holy crap, look at how young you are!" I yell at my friend Luis standing by my side.

"What are you talking about?" asks Luis, looking baffled.

I run over to a car window to get a look at myself.  I see my reflection in the Honda CRX.

"Oh, man!  To be this young again!  You Handsome Devil!" I yell at myself in the reflection.

"Hey, Fabio!  Get over here!" says a familiar voice.

I look over, and it's George Carlin, standing under a canopy, behind a plastic table, working the T-shirt booth.  When I run over to him, George says:  

"Look, here comes your boy now.  I can't believe it. You almost F'd it up again. Get over there and buy the tickets!"

"Okay, okay!" I say, running to gather up Luis. "Lu, follow me!"

Luis and I come face to face with a college kid, who looks like Robert Downey, Jr. He's wearing a fedora hat, a T-shirt featuring the band who is about to play, jeans that are tapered and rolled up at the bottom, with white socks and black wing-tipped brogue shoes. 

"Dude, you're about to come offer me and my friend two tickets to this concert aren't you?" I say to Robert Downey.
"Well . . .I've got two tickets I'm trying to sell," says the good-looking scalper.

"How much?" asks Luis.

"$20.00 each.  I paid $17.50 face value."

"We'll take them!"  I shout as I hug the repulsed scalper.

"Wait a minute Jack.  That's too much. I just came here to stand outside the concert to listen to a few songs," says Luis.

Time comes to a halt.  I see George Carlin, who is selling some kid a band poster.  George and I make eye contact, and in slow motion, he slaps his hand to his forehead.  

Classical music is booming out of the P.A. system inside the amphitheater, which only heightens my anxiety that Luis is about to blow this moment A SECOND TIME.

Snapping out of my fugue state, I turn to Luis and say

"Lu, this is one of the most important moments of our lives.  If we don't buy these two concert tickets, no matter what the price, we are going to live to regret it for the rest of time- do you understand me?!"

Lu and the Robert Downey Jr. scalper's eyes widen.

"In less than twenty-four hours, Lu, for some reason we never understand, you will become the biggest most obsessed fan of this band in the United States.  You start to dress like the lead singer.  You buy every single T-shirt, poster, cassette, and vinyl record the band ever produces," I say.

Lu and the scalper stare at me like I'm a mental patient.  

"You buy unlistenable bootleg vinyl discs, recorded under raincoats at concerts.  You correspond, PRE-INTERNET, with people in Denmark, New Zealand, and across the globe, trading band memorabilia, by writing hand-written letters and using stamps.  You wait weeks for the British versions of the records you already have the American versions of to arrive in the mail.   You know all of the secret messages carved into the run-off grooves of the vinyl discs."

"Lu, you will wear eyeglasses and a hearing aid that you don't need, simply because you saw the lead singer doing that in a music magazine.   The lead singer wore that rig for a concert or two, to was pay homage to that deaf singer from the 1950s who Dexy's Midnight Runners sang about, named Johnny Ray.   You, on the other hand, will wear the glasses and fake hearing aid for the first two years of college every single day.  People point and stare at you."

I'm starting to get through to Luis now. He's such an obsessive basket case, none of this seems that far-fetched to him.

"Most annoyingly, you will take on the very persona of Morrissey.  You will critique everything that normal people enjoy, and you go around quoting Oscar Wilde all the time. " I tell Luis. 

"Finally, you will pretend you're 'consciously abstaining from sex,' when in fact, you and I both have so little game that we couldn't get laid in a Nevada brothel even if we had a ton of Bitcoin."

"What's Bitcoin?" asks the scalper.

A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours

"San Diego, we are 'The Smiths!'" says Morrissey as he takes the stage.

My knees buckle. I almost faint.

The band launches into the song "Panic" then "I Want the One I Can't Have" then into "There is a Light that Never Goes Out."

Tears are running down my face.  

"Jesus Christ!" I say to Luis, putting a fist up to my eye, embarrassed.

"Johnny Marr is the greatest guitar player in the history of the world," says Luis, 

Lu is right.  Johnny is a virtuoso, and every note he plays makes me wanna scream and faint like one of those girls in a  Beatlemania documentary.

I see in Lu's eyes he's become radicalized.  He's started his journey into The Smiths psychosis.  It's gonna be about eight years til he gets deprogrammed and we see him on the other side. I can almost sympathize with his plight from this perspective.

"These seats suck," I said to Luis, squinting my eyes to see the stage from the second-to-last row that we're seated in.

"Yeah, who cares, dude.  This is amazing.  I'm so glad you had that cash.  There's not an ATM for miles around here," said Luis.

"We gotta get closer to the stage.  If Tracy were here, she'd walk us right to the front.  Shit, she'd get us backstage!" I yelled at Luis over the music.

"Who's Tracy?!" yelled Luis.

Just then, George Carlin appeared at the end of the row, wearing a yellow security windbreaker.  He beckoned us with his finger to come with him. We did.

"Whattya gonna stay up here the whole time?" said George.

I looked at him meekly.

"You gotta at least try to get close to the stage.  You'll regret it the rest of your life!" shouted George.

Shoplifters of the World Unite

We followed George Carlin down the long flight of amphitheater stairs, right up close to the stage.  When the Smiths start playing "How Soon Is Now?" the place erupts. The fans go batshit crazy.

George Carlin grabbed Luis and me by the scruff of our necks and pushed us to the front row, right at the foot of the stage yelling,  

"Now Go!"

We tumbled right into a real douchebag-looking guy, surrounded by a bunch of bimbos. He looked like Donald Trump, but he was the local 80's San Diego version.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" said the San Diego Donald.

"We're getting close to the stage.  We love The Smiths," said Luis.

"No you're not!  Where's security?" said S.D. Donald, looking around over the crowd. 

Damn, S.D. Donald is really tall, I thought to myself.  Really tall. What the hell is a douchebag businessman like him doing at a Smiths concert anyway?

"Security!  Security!" shouted the Donald, pointing down at me and Luis.

The Donald is dressed in a big 80's double-breasted business suit.  His tie is tied way too long, hiding his fat belly.  Donnie whips out an enormous 80's style mobile phone, and, squinting, he starts dialing a number.

"You know how much I paid for these tickets you assholes?  One-hundred, twenty-five bucks each!  Beat it!" said the S.D. Donald.

"Hold on!  Hold on, Sir!"  I shouted.  I had an idea.

The music was absolutely pulsing from the stage.  The whole crowd was hugging and singing the words to "How Soon Is Now?"

I reached in my pocket to pull out my iPhone.

"Excuse me while I whip this out!" I yelled at the Donald, with my phone illuminating his and my faces.

"Oh, No!  The kid's got some kind of a gun!" screamed one of S.D. Donald's dumb girlfriends.

The crowd around us went into a panic and started scrambling to get away from me. 

Paint a Vulgar Picture

S.D. Donnie didn't move an inch. He just stood there scowling at me.

"It's a phone!  It's only a phone!" I shouted.  "Look, check it out!" I took a "selfie" with me and S.D. Donald, then I showed him our picture on the screen.

"Where the hell did you get that thing, kid?!" shouted the Donald.

"I'm from the future! The year 2020.  You invest in the stock market?" I shouted over the music.

"I sure do.  OK great. What's the name of the company?"

"Palm Pilot!"

"What is it?!" shouted the Donald, bending, and cupping his ear.

"Palm Pilot! Invest every penny you got!" I shout.

That's when the music stopped, and I felt the big arm around my neck.

Rusholme Ruffians

Five or six security guards tackled Luis and me to the ground, putting us in chokeholds.  I shoved the phone back into the deep pocket of my B.U.M Equipment pants.

The lights of the amphitheater came up. 

"Stop!  Relent! Stand down Philistines! You brutes!" shouted Morrissey into the microphone.  

The security guards looked up, confused and disgusted at Morrissey on the stage. 

"Unhand those gentle supplicants! Bring the buggards to the stage!" said Morrissey.

George Carlin appeared in his security windbreaker again.

"You heard Morrissey- get these two buffoons backstage now. Otherwise, we'll have a riot on our hands. Chop-chop!"

The Donald was on his huge 80's mobile phone. The bimbo girlfriends stood next to him, flirting with the security guards. 

"I want 500,000 shares of Palm Pilot tomorrow morning, you hear me?  'A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE SAYING' it's a good thing. Just do it."

Steve West, the British D.J. from the New Wave radio station 91X, came up to the microphone.

"Alrighty! Now, now!  It's been a right proper cock-up hasn't it?!  A real wobbly!

We're gonna take a short break so you mingers can get your heads together. Hunky-Dory, - eh?!  That's right, Lads- ta! 

The Smiths will be back soon.  'How Soon Is Now?'  I can't tell you."  Steve West chuckled at his own terrible joke.  

"Listen, there'll be no more kerfuffles, or the boys are going home- do you understand?! Cheers- ta!"

The audience looked at him, totally confused.  

I wasn't sure what he meant either with those crazy British slang words.  

But everyone grunted, "Yes."

Golden Lights

The security guards pushed us to the side entrance of the stage. The kids in the audience shot daggers with their eyes at Lu and me.  We had ruined the song, and now we were going backstage.  

The pungent smell of marijuana filled the air.  At the last minute, I saw the face of the handsome scalper who sold us those shitty seats.  I met his eyes, but he was so stoned, I don't even think he remembered who I was.

"Bring 'em up here, boys!" said George Carlin, who was holding the backstage door open.  George was now wearing a dungaree jeans outfit, with a crocheted Rastafarian tam on his head.  He had transformed into a backstage roadie. 

Luis and I stumbled as the security guards pushed us hard through the backstage door. Then George and two other roadies dragged us to a hallway, where, in all their staggering genius stood The Smiths. Johnny Marr's guitar parts from the records were so complex now, they needed two guitarists on stage, so they brought Craig Gannon from the band Aztec Camera. That's like being invited to join The Beatles.

I got so nervous, I nearly pissed my pants.  Morrissey said:

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom . . . Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you two tossers, because you're here somehow"

Now that's some cool Samuel L. Jackson "Pulp Fiction" shit right there, I thought to myself.

The silence was painful.  

"Luis loves you, Morrissey.  And I do too," I said, regretting the words instantly.

"Call me Steven," said Morrissey.  

Luis and Morrissey walked away and sat in two metal folding chairs in the corner, talking quietly face to face. The rest of the group broke off too.

George Carlin leaned against a rigging cabinet smoking a joint with Andy Rourke, the bassist, and Mike Joyce, the drummer.

Stretch Out and Wait

I run after Johnny Marr who's gone off to find his wife, Angie.  Johnny grabs a beer, lights up a cigarette, and then we all three sat down. I started telling Johnny about my guitar playing, and I gave him some tips and tricks that I'd picked up along the way.

"Johnny, can you explain to me how you get your tone on "Some Girls are Bigger Than Others," that's one I've kind of struggled with,"  I asked Johnny, pretending like it was even remotely possible for me to play.  

"Sure, why not?" said Johnny picking up his Fender Jaguar. 

Then Johnny explained his tone settings and showed me the riff.   Everything was going really good, and I was saying  "Yeah, yeah," you can hear me on the video.  I was nodding my head while he talked, but when we got to (1:11)  suddenly I got light-headed, the room spun, and I was out cold. [The nice video player does not show up on the mobile version of the story sometimes- so please click the underlined link, thanks].

Next thing I remember, I was coming to on the floor staring at the ceiling, with George Carlin, Johnny, and Angie, fanning me with towels.

"Oh ... oh shit.  Shit, sorry, Johnny.  Sorry guys.  Johnny, next time you just casually launch into a riff like that, can you give me a little more warning?" I asked, rubbing the back of my head.

"Ahh, sorry Jack, my bad.  That one's on me," said Johnny.

I sat up and looked for my beer.  Someone brought me a fresh one.

"That's so beautiful Johnny. How can you be so talented when you're only in your twenties?" I asked him.

"Lot's of hours sitting alone in me room there, Jack-O," said Johnny.  "Right Angie baby?"

"Don't I know it," said Angie.

"So, Jackie, what's the story here?  Why did you cack up our concert here in sunny San Diego?  What's all the fighting about?" asked Johnny.

"Johnny, I'm here from the future.  From the year 2020.  George Carlin is an angel who visited me to let me come back in time to fix one of the biggest regrets of my life."

I continued.  

"See, in real life, I blew it and passed up the opportunity to buy a ticket for this show.  My friend Luis screwed up even worse.  Within like 24 hours of this concert, for some unexplainable reason,  he becomes the biggest Smiths fan in the world, and we had to stop him from committing suicide whenever he thought about missing this show."

Johnny and Angie stared at me.  Then they both burst out laughing and clapping their hands. 

"Oh, Jack-Man!  What did you smoke tonight, Son?" said Johnny, looking at Angie grinning.

"Check this out," I said as I whipped out my iPhone.

"Oh wow!" said Angie as the phone lit up.

I did the selfie-trick with Johnny and Angie.

"Top gear!"  Brilliant!  You must be joking!" said Johnny.  "Real Star Trek stuff, that!"

"Can I see it?" Angie said.

"Yeah, flip through all the screens," I said.

"So wait a sec. You're from the future?  You know everything that's gonna happen from now to 2020?" asked Johnny.

"Yep," I said.

"And if you tell us, will that affect the future?' asked Johnny.  "I love science fiction!  I've read all them science fiction books y'know!"

"No.  George Carlin says even if I tell you everything that happens tonight, you won't remember any of it when my little trip back in time is over."

Johnny looked at Angie and then back at me.

"Tell us everything!" they both said.


This Night Has Opened My Eyes

I told Johnny and Angie everything that happened between 1986 and 2020.

"And the election is on November 3rd, in like three weeks, and they don't have a cure for the Coronavirus, and Keith Richards is still alive,"  I said, exhausted.

"I can't believe Manchester City wins the Premier League," said Angie.  Johnny shook his head in astonishment too.

"And I can't believe the Bruce Jenner thing," said Johnny.

Outside, the crowd was going berserk for The Smiths return to the stage.

"Jack, everything you told us was so amazing, but you didn't tell us what happens to The Smiths," said Johnny.

"Oh, yeah. Well, Johnny, you stop drinking and smoking.  And you become vegetarian, and run lots of marathons," I said.

"Really? Cheers, Jack, cheers," Johnny said, clinking his beer with mine.

"Yeah, and you and Angie stay married the whole time- real high school sweethearts!" I said, trying to avoid saying more.

They looked at each other and cuddled.

"What about me and Morrissey, Jack?" asked Johnny sheepishly.

"Johnny, before I tell you that . . . can I play "Please Please Please Let Me Get I Want" on guitar for you and Angie?" I asked.  "It's a short song, and one of the only Smiths songs I can play."

"You play guitar do ya, you chancer?  Yeah sure, here play this one," said Johnny.

"Johnny, do you have a left-handed guitar I could play?" I asked, embarrassed.

"Jack, nobody plays left-handed guitar," said Johnny

George Carlin presented me with a left-handed guitar.

"Thanks, George," I said.

Sadly, I can only show you the end of my performance as the video (my talent) is too big for the blog website to handle.  You'll just have to use your imagination how good the rest of it was [Please click on the link if the video player does not appear:

I played the best I could, but, I was nervous, and I  messed it up in the middle. Johnny and Angie clapped politely and over-enthusiastically, just to be nice.  I was over the moon.

"Johnny, that song really meant a lot to me and Luis when we were in high school.  Y'know like when we had a lot of disappointments, like crushes, and missing this concert and stuff."

"Cool, man.  That's cool. Thanks for sharing that, Jack," said Johnny.

Bigmouth Strikes Again

Luis and I walked with The Smiths to the stage and stood by before the curtain opened.  That's when Johnny couldn't hold back anymore.  Johnny got up in Morrissey's face.

"You fuckin' prat!  Do you realize you become a right-wing fascist in your fat old age?!" shouted Johnny.

Poor Morrissey was in shock, having no idea what Johnny was talking about.

"What are you on about?" said Morrissey.  "You don't actually believe a word he says, do you?" pointing at me.

"Did you hear the barmy story he's got about Bruce Jenner?!' shouted Morrissey at Johnny.

Luis and I watched the rest of the show right from the side of the stage.  When the band played their final song, Luis and I  ran out and joined the other crazy fans who made it past security up onto the stage. We picked up and played a tambourine and maracas.

I Know It's Over

When the show was over, we said goodbye to the band, and they zoomed off in the limo-bus.  I took a bunch of photos with my iPhone, but it was sad to think the photos would probably disappear later.

"Alright 'Gulliver's Travels,' it's time to say your goodbyes," said George Carlin, who was now back in his "Bill and Ted" outfit.

"Okay, man. I'll say goodbye to Luis." 

I walked over to Luis, who was standing where the bus had left.

"Hey Lu, was this the best night ever or what?" I asked him.

"Yeah.  I'm so glad we bought tickets.  We would've regretted it for the rest of our lives," said Luis.

"You know what dude? If we missed this concert, we'd have gotten through it together.  We'd have spent hundreds of hours listening to The Smiths, imagining we saw them at this concert.  And that wouldn't have been so bad would it?" I asked.

"Dude, are you kidding me, tonight was epic," said Luis.

"I know.  You're right.  I played guitar for Johnny Marr and his wife, and they clapped politely. Who's ever gonna believe that?" 

"Morrissey told me I should be celibate for a few years, and wear fake eyeglasses and a hearing aid in my ear," said Luis.

"Why did he say to do that?" I asked.

"I don't know.  But I think I'm actually gonna do it," said Luis.

I know you are, buddy, I thought to myself.  Even at school.

"Hey Lu, it was really great seeing ya here tonight.  I wish I could just stay here and do everything we did in high school and college all over again. Most things I wouldn't change at all, really," I said.

Luis gave me a curious look.  Then he said:

"Oh yeah.  Morrissey told me something else too.  He said he couldn't believe that of all the things in the world, you chose this concert.  He said it made him proud for what The Smiths achieved with their music and the connection they made with their fans- with us."

"Really?  He said that?  Geez, Morrissey is such a difficult bastard, it's hard to imagine him giving us a sort of compliment like that," I said.

Luis and I took it all in for a moment.

"Hey Lu, you never even asked me how I knew how to play guitar," I said.

"Yeah, what the hell? You learn how to play guitar in the future?" asked Luis.

"Yeah.  Actually, you play guitar first, and I get jealous, then I learn how to play," I said.

"Hmm." Luis thought about it. "Do we form a band?"

"No.  You're too difficult to work with - like Morrissey.   You lose interest anyway, and you start exercising, just as obsessively as you followed The Smiths.  You become like a super fit Ironman." I explained.

"That's rad," said Luis.

"Hey, Lu.  You just go ahead and drive your Volkswagen Fox home, I'll get a ride home with our new friend George Carlin here, okay?" I said.

"Later dude," said Luis, and we did our soul brother handshake that we always did, cupping our hands to make a real loud "pop" sound when our hands clasped.

Accept Yourself

With a whoosh, I was back in the Man Cave, lying on my couch.  George Carlin was on the barstool.

"Well?  You feel like you got it out of your system?  No more regrets?" asked George.

"Yeah man, that was a blast," I said. "Thanks for all your help George."

"Whattaya think the lesson is, 'Sunshine?'" said George Carlin.

I thought for a few seconds.

"That anytime I need to, I can go back in time in my imagination, and rewrite my life any way I want."

"That's a start," said George.  "Kinda shallow and narcissistic, but a start."

"And if I hurt someone, and that's my regret, whether they are dead or alive,  I can write them a letter, and as long as I'm sincere and honest, I can probably make things better," I said.

"You know, sometimes a well-timed, sincere letter can do just the trick," said George.

You've Got Everything Now

"Here, someone asked me to give you this," said George, standing up from the bar chair.

He threw me a piece of paper folded into a square. Then George snapped his fingers and disappeared.

I unfolded the paper.  A guitar pick with the initials "JM" fell out on my lap.

On the paper, were the lyrics, written in Morrissey's handwriting, to "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want

Beneath the song it said:  
"Luis and Jack . . . 
'Non, Je ne regrette rien!"

signed Morrissey and Johnny Marr-SDSU 1986.

© Copyright Jack Clune 2020 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Those Two Foreign Kids Who Moved to the Neighborhood

Those Two Foreign Kids Who Moved to the Neighborhood

Another stark reminder of an era gone by


I have a friend who is a fellow attorney. He's about ten years older than me.  When I took up guitar twenty years ago, he went to the guitar store with me and helped me pick one out.

That's because even though my friend is 5'4" tall, balding and weighs 145 pounds, when he plugged in an electric guitar at my loft, he unleashed a torrent of rock n roll licks like he was Jimmy Page.

After I picked my jaw up off the ground, my friend told me this story.

He told me about two kids he grew up with in his neighborhood.  They came from some foreign country and they could barely speak a lick of  English. The boys' parents could not speak any English at all.

The one kid played classical piano, and the other learned guitar.  The young one hated the endless piano lessons and played drums instead, whenever he could.  But the older brother who had the guitar got jealous of the drum kit and insisted they switch.

They switched.

The two kids formed a band. My friend learned guitar, but he was not good enough to be in the band. The brothers played at backyard parties, and my friend has tape cassettes of the shows.

As they got older, but before they could drive, my friend's mother drove them all to see concerts in Los Angeles, and sometimes on the Sunset Strip.

Leaving the show, my friend would ask the younger brother what he thought of the famous guitarist they just saw.  

"He's okay I guess," was the usual response.

The brothers' band had a rival band they played against in contests and with whom they competed for shows and parties.  The brothers stole the lead singer.  Or something like all that.

My friend the attorney is Jewish, and he grew up in Pasadena, California.  The lead singer of the rival band was also a Jewish kid from Pasadena, whose father was a doctor. 

His name was David Lee Roth. 

I know exactly where I was the first first time I heard Van Halen.  I was sitting in a treehouse with a few other kids, in the orange grove behind my house.  The song was "Running With the Devil."  The music started with the ominous bass heartbeat.  It was terrifyingly alien-sounding, and exhilarating at the same time.  It was unlike anything  I had ever heard before in my life- and I had listened to A LOT of Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath.

Van Halen's music, attitude, and image are the living incarnation of halcyon Southern California in the late 1970s and early '80s.  When you listen to Van Halen, no matter where you are, you've 'got a beer in your hand, and your toes in the sand . . . '

Will we ever know such a relatively blissful, carefree time again?


I doubt it.

Rest in Peace Edward Van Halen

© Copyright Jack Clune 2020

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Any Cars Coming?

Any Cars Coming?

It took less than a cell phone to distract kids in simpler times

Photo by Andhika Soreng on Unsplash

It was the weekend before Halloween, and there was still a sense of mourning in the neighborhood for the end of the Indian summer. It was overcast, and the air was crisper and cooler than before. People say there are no real changes of season in Southern California, but they are wrong.

We kids were riding our bikes in the semi-circular driveway in front of the Johnson house. When neither of the parents’ cars was parked in the driveway, we rode our bikes in one entrance and out the other back into the street.

Lifting the front tire over the lip of the driveway, we veered left up a gentle slope past the front of the house and rolled back down onto Sunray Place. It was like the drop-off in front of a hotel, but in my imagination, it was a suburban Velodrome.

In the middle of the semi-circle was a garden of sorts protected by a tall hedge with waxy leaves. The arc-shaped bush was bookended by brick columns on either side, one of which had a mailbox in it.

The hedge created an enchanted hollow, with ornamental Chinese grass and miniature footpaths, which would have been a perfect place for a few half-hidden garden gnomes.

Photo by Sarah Brink on Unsplash
Eric Johnson, or “E.J.” as we called him, was in the garage fixing his bicycle. I was bored waiting for him, so I rode my bike around and around the driveway. I imagined I was Speed Racer, competing against an evil motorcycle gang in a surreal cartoon landscape.

E.J.’s younger brother Colby climbed up on the brick column, which had the mailbox in it. Colby dangled and alternately kicked his legs as he held a paper towel under what looked like a soup can. He jabbed a fork into the can and shoved the contents into his mouth.

“Yuck! What are you eating?” I asked Colby.

“‘Beanies and Weenies,’” he said, holding up the can for me to see.

“Gross!” I said, completely stopped in my tracks. I gagged a little.

“Aren’t you supposed to put that in a pot and heat it up?” I asked.

“I like ’em cold,” said Colby.

I straddled my bike and stared up at Colby on his perch, contemplating the slippery, cold pellets in his mouth. I thought of my mom spooning ALPO dog food into the bowl for our untrainable Kerry Blue Terrier named 'Finn MacCool.'

I almost vomited.

To get some fresh air, I resumed my laps around the driveway. Colby was on my left as I came around the semi-circle down the slope of the driveway, then out onto the street again. As I re-entered the driveway, E.J. was still bent on one knee, working on his bike. The Styx song "Renegade" blasted from the radio on the smooth garage floor.

I came back around the front of the house, and this was the most fun part of the trip, reaching the top of the driveway and then hauling ass down the incline into the street. The problem was that the hedge of bushes blocked the view of the road.

"Tell me if any cars are coming, okay?" I said to Colby as I approached him.

"Uh-huh," he grunted, slurping some slime off his chin.

I popped out onto the street again and turned left, starting another lap. I entered the driveway, passed E.J. in the garage, went up the slope, and came around the turn.

"Any cars?" I shouted.

"Nope," said Colby, hunched over and engaged like an ape cracking open a coconut.

As I exited the driveway, I looked to my right and saw our teenaged neighborhood hero Pete Overlund hugging, and just about to kiss a girl near the Knudtson's lawn. Pete stood about two feet taller than the girl, and I found that funny, but I dare not make a sound.

I pedaled again up Sunray Place and entered the driveway. In the East County, a kid's BMX bike was as vital to him as a horse to a cowboy, or a surfboard to a beach kid. Unfortunately, I had a piece of crap bicycle at this stage.

It was a Huffy bike that was more of a toy than a real dirt bike. I longed for a Redline, Torker, or even a more lowly Schwinn. My bike did not even have hand brakes. Pedaling up the street took all my effort because the crankshafts were so short on the pedals, and the bike so heavy and unwieldy.

Exhausted, I made it back into the driveway, to the top of the curve, and I started cruising towards Colby again.

"Any cars?" I asked Colby.


I stopped cruising and stood to pedal harder down the slope to gain maximum speed. I exploded out of the driveway.

That’s when I crashed into the passenger side of a Lincoln Continental barreling down the street at about 35 miles per hour.

My front tire slammed into the car, like a Jet Ski into the side of a battleship. I felt like the guy falling off the ski jump on the introduction to ABC’s The Wide World Sports. Instead of flying over the hood of the car, however, I simply hit the steel beast head-on and helicopter-spun in a 360-degree turn, falling directly to the street.

The landing was gentle, all things considered. In fact, the collision went well but for the fact that the back tire of the colossus ran over and crushed my right foot.

The Lincoln Continental slammed on its brakes, laying down ten feet of smoking tire tread marks, then it stopped. I lied on the ground staring up at the dark gray sky.

Colby dropped his can and slid off the brick mailbox column. Eric ran out of the garage. I was whimpering but not crying. When Pete Overlund and his babe walked up near me, I leaned up on my elbows.

“Jackie Blue’s hurt,” said Pete. Pete’s nickname for me was Jackie Blue, after the AM radio song. It sounds cool now, but it irritated me back then. Pete would never have called me that if I liked it.

The girl wore Dolphin shorts over a one-piece bathing suit. She never spoke, but simply clung to Pete. I’d never seen her before, nor would I ever see her again. I wanted to hear her talk. We had no girls in our neighborhood.

“I’m not hurt,” I said.

“Yeah, you are Jackie Blue . . .” said Pete, with a smirk that told me he knew I was not going to die, and that whatever injuries I had, it was already a funny story.

“No, I’m nooooooooot,” and at that point, I started heaving and sobbing uncontrollably. Pete’s wisecrack broke the seal, and I started bawling.

I reclined back on the street and gave in to crying, not so much out of pain, but out of a primal realization that I had just escaped death.

The driver was the neighbor Mr. Avery. He had dark, slicked-back hair, big round eyes with thick glasses, and he looked like Lon Chaney. The Averys lived in a house on a hill that loomed over the cul-de-sac, at the end a long steep driveway. To us kids, it was like the house from Psycho because it was hidden, and we rarely saw its inhabitants.

Mr. Avery got out of the car, marched up the street, and scooped me up off the asphalt, like the Tall Man from Phantasm. He lowered me into the dark velour back seat, which had sconces on the padded sidewalls, like a haunted house. Placing my bike into the trunk, Mr. Avery pushed the door down gently, and the diabolical death mobile engaged and shut the trunk itself automatically.

Mr. Avery turned ‘The Car’ around and drove it up the hill to my house on the corner. As the hearse pulled into the driveway, my mother was where she always was, at the kitchen window, working over the sink doing dishes or cooking. I saw her eyes bug out of her head.

Mr. Avery walked my limp body up to the window and lifted me up, like Frankenstein offering up to the villagers the child he just suffocated by accident down by the lake.

My mom dried her hands, ran through the garage, and opened the side door for Mr. Avery to carry me into the house, and put me down on a couch.

 . . . 

Colby had failed to spot a Lincoln Continental, the largest U.S. production model of car ever made available to a non-President.

We did not call my Dad because it was the early 80’s, and you never called Dad at work unless it was a real emergency. I was still alive, so my Mom, my brother, and I all agreed there was no sense in pissing Dad off.

Dad was a doctor at the same hospital where they would put me in a cast. Mom figured we would probably see Dad in the parking lot anyway.

Photo by the FDA

Copyright © 2020 Jack Clune

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

What Not To Do On Your First Day of Elementary School

What Not To Do On Your First Day of Elementary School

Don’t wear a neck kerchief

 Next week was my going to be my first day of First Grade. This was the summer of 1976, and my family had moved into a new house, in a new neighborhood. In the kitchen, my mom was reading a letter from the new school.

“Oh, how exciting! Your new school is having a Bicentennial Celebration the first week back. They’re having a costume contest on the first day. You can wear your George Washington outfit that Grandma Clune made for you!”

An electric current shot through my body, and my face got red and hot.

“I’m not sure about that one, Mom. I don’t think I want to wear that on the first day to a new elementary school,” I said.

“Oh God, are you kidding me? You have to wear it. Everyone will love it.”

 . . .

On the first day of school, we pulled up to Avocado Elementary School in Mom’s white Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Low flat buildings sat squat with a listless American flag hanging in the front. Yellow school buses pulled up and dropped kids off. I scanned the crowd, desperate to find someone in a costume. I did not see a single costume.

I was wearing a replica George Washington Revolutionary War outfit. I had a filigree neck kerchief, a vest, and a long coat with lace wrist cuffs. Grandma Clune made me the outfit when I was on a Revolutionary War kick. I used to wear it when I played ‘war’ with the kids in the street in the old neighborhood. That seemed like a very long time ago on this sweltering morning.

The Author

“Mom, nobody else is wearing costumes,” I said.

“Sure they are, look at that girl over there.”

A girl stepping off the bus was wearing some sort of Little House on the Prairie outfit, with a scarf around her head. One or two other girls, dressed similarly, climbed out of their mother’s cars or appeared walking along the dirt shoulder of the road from their houses nearby. No boys had dressed up. I sat frozen in the car.

“Yeah, see. There’s plenty of costumes,” said my little brother from the back seat.

“Shut up, Brian!” I shouted. “Mom, I wanna go home and change clothes,” I pleaded.

“Stop it. Get out. I have to get your brother to Kindercare.”

“Mom, I’m serious. I wanna go home,” I begged.

“Get out of the car, now! I don’t have time for this!” said my Mom, reaching over and undoing my seatbelt. “I’ll come back to the school with a bag of clothes for you, and I’ll leave it at the principal’s office.”

I climbed out of the car like a pilot getting out of a fighter plane that had crashed behind enemy lines. I closed the door, and looking through the car window, I saw my brother grinning like the kid in The Omen in the back seat.

. . . 

First day at a new school and I’m dressed in a Revolutionary War jacket with gold buttons, cravat, tri-corner hat, wrist kerchiefs, and buckled shoes, I thought. I’m basically asking to be bullied for the next six years at this elementary school.

I gulped and, carrying my Mead notebook and lunch sack, I walked away from the car into the fray. At first, the kids did not notice me, as they were too busy greeting each other after a long hot summer. Slowly, however, I felt the bright glare of kids staring at me.

“My what a wonderful outfit!” said a little old lady, as I walked by her near the Principal’s office.

“You’ll be in the running for best costume for sure,” the lady said. She looked like my Grandma McHugh, not the one who made my outfit, but the other Grandma. Then it dawned on me, this ancient lady was a teacher at the school.

Two or three boys and girls standing near her looked at me in complete bewilderment and horror. They were not in costumes.

Inside the school, I reported to my First Grade class with Mrs. Sanders. She too seemed very old to me, with her white hair. But her eyes sparkled with youth, and she smiled warmly when she did attendance roll call, and she saw me sitting there in my outfit, with my hat still on.

“Andy Bloom, there you are, . . . . John Clune, oh, there you are… .what a wonderful costume John!” said Mrs. Sanders.

I blushed.

“John, I have a note here that you like to go by the name ‘Jack’ is that correct ‘Honey?”

A couple of the boys sniggered.

“‘Jack Off, Jack’. ‘Jack Me-Off’ . . .” I heard them whisper.

“Yes, M’am,” I said.

“Well ‘Jack’ you are then!” said Mrs. Saunders.

All the boys laughed. Mrs. Sanders looked around with slight confusion. Even my name causes me grief. And now I’m sitting here in this costume, I thought.

Why do my parents torture me like this? Why is it my fate to endure things no other kid does?

“Charles Schmit . . . Charles, please take off your baseball hat,” said Mrs. Sanders.

“Why does he get to keep his hat on?” asked Charles Schmit, pointing at me, in my tri-corner hat.

“Charles, I am not going to argue with you Sweetie, take off your hat,” said Mrs. Sanders.

Charles Schmit looked at me with contempt. Charles was shorter and smaller than me.

I’ll call him ‘Charles Shit’ if he keeps this up, I thought to myself. I’d have to get the lay of the land first, as this was a new school to me.

 . . .

The rest of the morning went okay, as the kids in my own class got bored staring at me. There was a 15-minute break, however, where we had to go out on the playground and that was a different story. I tried to hang out in the classroom, but it did not work.

“Jack, Dear, you have to go outside. The janitor is coming by to vacuum the class, and he needs all students outside,” said Mrs. Sanders.

This school was weird and different from my old school. All the classrooms had moving walls that the teachers could push around and reconfigure. The moveable “walls” were like thick vinyl drapes that moved on tracks.

I heard the janitor’s vacuum coming closer. Then he came around the corner, and he was scary looking. Dressed in a dark green work outfit, like a military man or car repair mechanic, the janitor had a flat top haircut and he wore big black boots. Tall and menacing, the janitor had a permanent scowl on his face. The overall impression on me was that he was Michael Myers from Halloween, without the mask on.

I willingly ran outside after I saw him.

 . . .

Standing in the prison yard now, I hugged the wall and ate the cheese and crackers snack my Mom packed for me. I was digging the cheese out with the red plastic stick when Charles Shit and the two or three other boys approached me.

“This is Jack Meoff,” said Charles, seemingly introducing me to the other kid next to him.

“Where the hell did you get this costume Jack Meoff?” said the tough-looking kid.

“My grandmother made it for me. I didn’t want to wear it, but my mom forced me to,” I said, regretting the words the moment I uttered them.

“Actually, the costume is pretty cool. Do you have a gun?” said the tough kid.

“Yeah, I have a musket but I left it home,” I said.

“Do you like Led Zeppelin?” said the tough kid.

He had a shock of black hair, twinkling light blue eyes, and a crooked smile like Mr. MaGoo. He reminded me of Charles Bronson.

“Yeah,” I said.

“What’s your favorite song?” he asked.

“That’s hard because they’re all my favorite songs. “Kashmir,” “The Ocean” “Trampled Under Foot.” But right now, ‘Dancing Days’ is my favorite.”

“Cool. That’s a good one. You know a lot of Zeppelin.”

The bell rang, and we went back to class. Knowledge of Led Zeppelin songs and trivia had saved the day for me for the first of many times. I had no idea that Chuck and the tough kid Paul Otis would become my good friends for the next eight years.

The Author

 . . .

Back in the classroom, Mrs. Sanders was teaching us something, when a woman came around the corner holding a brown paper grocery bag.

The woman approached Mrs. Sanders and whispered in her ear. Mrs. Sanders pulled back and looked shocked at the woman. Then both the women talked under their breath to each other and then turned to stare at me.

“Jack, would you please come up here, Dear,’” said Mrs. Sanders.

I got up and walked up the row of kids to see Mrs. Sanders.

“Jack, your mother dropped off these clothes for you,” said Mrs. Sanders pointing at the bag.

Thank God, I thought, reaching for the bag.

“But I simply will not allow you to change out of that wonderful George Washington outfit until after the Bicentennial celebration. I am in charge of the ceremony, and it would disappoint me so very much if you changed now, do you understand me?” said Mrs. Sanders, looking deep into my eyes.

She looked and talked like the old lady in the Sylvester and Tweetie cartoons.

“Can I change after it’s over?” I asked.

“Well, yes. After the costume contest is over, you can change in the boy’s bathroom if you still want to, after all the wonderful attention you are going to receive.”

“Can I have my bag now?” I asked.

“Yes, but do not change your clothes until after, do you understand?”

“Yes. I promise,” I said.

I clutched the bag to my chest, like Linus from Peanuts gripping his safety blanket.

 . . .

At lunch, all the classes gathered in the open-air courtyard for the Bicentennial celebration, and the costume contest.

My teacher, Mrs. Sanders was the master of ceremonies, and she approached the microphone.

“Students and teachers, welcome back to the Avocado Elementary School, welcome to a new school year, and welcome to our 200 Year Bicentennial celebration!”

Everyone clapped politely.

“We are going to have a few speeches from some of our Sixth Grade students on the meaning, and importance of the Bicentennial of our great country. But first, please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and if you are wearing a hat please take it off.”

Chuck Shit leaned over and made sure I took my tri-corner hat off. I put my hand up to my heart, still holding tight to my grocery bag full of clothes.

“Thank you, students. Now, before we start the speeches, I would like everyone who wore costumes to please stand up and be recognized,” said Mrs. Sanders.

Oh, God.

I stood up and looked around. Five or six girls stood up, and they were all dressed the same, in their Melissa Gilbert Little House outfits.

“Would those students now please come up here to the stage, so they may be properly recognized,” said Mrs. Sanders.

There was no use trying to run and hide. I just had to go face the firing squad.

 . . .

The girls and I filed onto the “stage” which was really just the sidewalk in front of the cafeteria. We climbed a few steps up from the open-air courtyard where all the kids were seated on plastic chairs and picnic benches. I still hugged my grocery bag with the clothes in it like it was a parachute.

“Now please stand on the chairs if you would children. Thank you to Janitor Bruce, and the Sixth Grade boys for providing the chairs.”

Bruce, the Michael Myers janitor, and a few Sixth Grade boys dragged seven or eight plastic chairs behind us to stand on. I heard one of the boys behind me whisper “Pussy” in my ear as they pulled the chair up behind me.

“Initially, we were going to have a costume contest, but so few of you dressed up, and the costumes were all so good, we simply want to recognize everyone who dressed up, ” explained Mrs. Sanders.

I stared out at all the faces and realized the worst-case scenario had come true. I was the only boy in the whole school who was dumb enough to wear a costume.

“The only boy who wore a costume is Jack Clune, and what fine costume it is. Jack please stand on the chair and be recognized.”

I heard the crowd laugh at my name ‘Jack.’ I put my grocery bag down, and I climbed up and stood on the chair. I felt like “Carrie,” under the gaze of every child, teacher, and administrative person. I looked out and saw Bruce the janitor staring at me, chewing on a toothpick.

“Now girls, would you please stand on the chairs as I call your name . . . Suzanne Coke . . . Melody James . . . .”

Soon it was me and all girls standing there. Like Bob Barker and the Price is Right girls.

“Let’s give these students a big round of applause,” said Mrs. Sanders.

The sea of kids applauded very weakly.

“Okay, thank you, students, you may return to your seats.”

I dropped to the ground, grabbed the grocery bag, and ran for the boy’s bathroom.

 . . .

In the bathroom, I saw myself in the mirror as I ran to one of the empty stalls.

Jesus Christ. Why did I ever have this suit made?

I bounded into the stall and began taking off the hat, jacket, the cravat, and the vest first. Afraid the floor might be wet with pee, I started removing the costume from top to bottom.

I stood in a dry corner of the stall and got my corduroy pants on. Next came my favorite terrycloth shirt. I threw the buckled shoes in the paper bag and got my sneakers on. I felt relieved.

Then I heard the bathroom door slam open against the wall, and someone entered clearing their throat with grotesque sounds.

. . .

The intruder walked over to the sink, then it scraped up from its throat a big loogie and spit it out, retching. Then it turned on the water.

“Urgh. Urgh. Oh! Ooomph,” the creature was making guttural humanoid noises. Then it finally spoke.

“Urgh. Someone’s in here already taking a shit huh?” said the Klingon.

Whatever had just walked into the bathroom, it was talking to itself. I felt like I was in Jack and the Beanstalk, hiding from the giant.

“Hey how long you gonna be? I gotta take a shit too!” said the monster.

There’s another stall in here. Why is this happening to me? I don’t dare say anything, I thought.

“Hurry up! I want that stall!” said the beast.

Using two fingers, I turned the disc opening the stall and I stepped out tentatively.

Standing in front of me was a big kid twice my size, with an ugly face, narrow forehead, with strangely receding stringy hair. He looked like Ben Franklin, except he was dressed like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. He wore maroon corduroy pants and a puke green T-shirt. The boy’s eyes seemed to droop, and it looked like his red face had been scalded- recently. His mouth hung open.

“You’re the kid that was in the costume . . .” said the Toxic Avenger.

I gave up lying after the incident in Georgia when I got caught for breaking into my father’s car and stealing his doctor’s stuff- tongue depressors and penlights. I was on the spot here. I did not know what to say, but I instinctively knew to deny I was ‘costume boy.’

“No. No, no, no, that was not me,” I said, trying to buy time to think of what to say next.

“Yeah, it was you. And your costume’s in that bag,” said Quasimodo.

“No. No. No, there’s no costume in here,” I said, stupidly.

“Then what’s in there?” asked The Hills Have Eyes.

“This is my lunch bag. I have my lunch in here,” I said.

It was partially true. I had thrown my lunch bag in with the clothes.

“Let me see,” said the inbred from Deliverance as he reached over to grab my bag.

The bathroom door slammed open, even harder than when The Goonies came in.

“David!!! What did I tell you before, David! Are you ever allowed to go into the bathrooms without a teacher David?! No, no, no, you’re not!” shouted some angry man who looked like Neil Sedaka from the album cover Greatest Hits.

‘David’ cowered in fear and made whimpering noises like Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein. It would not have surprised me if Neil Sedaka started whipping him. I ran out of the bathroom without even washing my hands.

. . .

That night I had my mother zip my George Washington outfit in a plastic garment bag in a permanent retirement ceremony.

Thankfully, within a day or two, Patty Hearst was captured by the police, and everyone forgot about me and my costume.

The Author

P.S. This story is an excerpt from an upcoming Novel which will be edited by someone who knows what they are doing.

Copyright © 2020 Jack Clune

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Dark And Twisted Dry Cleaner Conspiracy To Steal My Hangers

The Dark And Twisted Dry Cleaner Conspiracy To Steal My Hangers

They're all working together


A Whole New Wardrobe For My Distinguished American Physique

Last year I went a little overboard and bought a bunch of new suits to wear to work. I cleared out some old suits that I had worn into the ground.

I stumbled on an American brand of suit that really fit me to a “T” so I decided to buy a bunch of them. I’m a chubby American guy, so the European suits don’t do it for me anymore.

I’m not on the Mediterranean Diet. I’m on the Chili’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Islands fine hamburgers circuit. This American suit maker understands my physique.

The suit I serendipitously found fit me so well that, over about two or three months, I bought ten of them. I’m a trial attorney, so I need enough suits to go for two weeks without wearing the same one twice. The jurors like some suit variety as the trials sometimes drag along during the boring parts.

You don’t wanna see Pat Sajak in the same suit two days in a row on ‘Wheel of Fortune.’
. . . 

The Hangers Make All The Difference In The Bedroom…Closet

My wife Tracy had a closet company come in and build her a nice huge closet, with a tiny little corner of it devoted to me. One of the nice things about buying the same suit ten times, in different colors, is that the fancy hangers they come on are all the same, and look really cool all lined up.

I’ll confess, I became a little obsessed with those hangers, and that they all be the same, and lined up nicely, a uniform distance apart. If my tiny little corner has to be tiny, at least let it be meticulously organized.
The Author
. . . 

No Fancy Tailors For Me, Strip Mall Dry Cleaners Only

I get my suits tailored at the dry cleaners. The two dry cleaners by my house have on-site tailors, or seamstresses, I should say, as both are women, the Asian Lady, and the Turkish Lady.

The one time, a few years ago, that I went to a “fancy tailor-man” downtown, he did a shockingly horrible job of simply sewing cuffs on a pair of suit pants. He charged too much. Then the threading started to fall apart within weeks of the job he did. No more “fancy tailors” downtown for me. The ladies at the strip mall were just fine.

. . .

The Dry Cleaner That Is Closer And Easier To Get To

The first suit I took to the dry cleaner which is closer and easier to get to at my house. I went into the store, and into the ridiculously ramshackle changing room to put on the suit to show the seamstress. I needed the pants and the sleeves of the jacket altered. The seamstress is the very nice Asian Lady.

When I enter the changing room at this dry cleaner, I feel like I am magically transported to a very far away, tropical location. This is a tropical location that is very humid and has lots of mosquitos. I feel like there could be elephants bathing outside and splashing water on their backs.

But I know none of those things is out there. I know that because the curtain is so poor a barrier between me and the Asian Lady, that I can see her eyes as I pull my pants on and pull up the zipper.

See, the curtain is on a rod, and the rod is much longer than the curtain. So on either side of the curtain, there is a two-inch gap where the Asian Lady and the other customers can watch me change in and out of my pants.

I step out of the changing booth, in my socks, with the pant legs flopping around. The seamstress bends down, folds up one of the cuffs of the pants. She pins the cuff, showing me the break of the pant, and makes some marks with a little piece of white chalk she holds in her fingertips. Then she adjusts and marks the suit jacket sleeves. By this point, I’m sweating like Elvis in Hawaii.

The other customer ladies, and the little children whose hands they are holding, all stare at me. They seemed to be amazed that I am doing all of this right there in front of them.

“Okay, you’re done,” says the Asian Lady.

“You want to pay now, or when you pick-up?” asks the other lady running the cash register.

“I’ll pay later when I pick-up. Who knows? I might get hit by a bus between now and then.” I say, chuckling.

Neither the Asian Lady nor the cashier laughs.

. . .

The Pick-Up

“Hi, I’m here to pick up my suit. Here’s the slip.” I say, handing it to the woman that I’ve never seen behind the counter before.

She goes to the big rack, pushes the button, and the thousands of articles of clothing ride around like a big roller coaster until my suit appears. She stops the ride and pulls my suit down.

“Okay, here it is,” she says hanging the suit on the metal rack near the cash register.

I hand her my credit card, and she puts it in the card machine. The machine spits out the receipt and I am signing it when I notice they have the suit on a janky “fake” suit hanger. This contraption is some piece of thin plastic over a wire hanger.

“Wait a second? Where’s the fancy hanger?” I ask.

“What do you mean?” the lady asks, handing over the receipt, and a pen for me to use to sign.

“Where is the thick black plastic hanger that the suit was on?” I say.

“Oh. I don’t know,” says the lady, stepping back a little defensively.

Now I see the Asian Lady seated at the sewing machine, kind of peeking over her shoulder meekly.

“I need the big plastic hanger that the suit came on,” I say, remaining calm.

“Well, I don’t know where that hanger is,” says the “new” lady kind of being a little surly. “Do you know where the hanger he’s talking about is?” she asks the seamstress lady.

The Asian Lady does not really respond.

“Let me see who handled your order,” says the surly lady. “Oh, Cassie handled it. Let me call Cassie.”

She calls Cassie, right there in front of me, on the store phone.

“Yeah, there’s this guy here who wants to know where the hanger is,” says the surly lady. “Uhm-hm. Yep. Yep. A suit hanger. Um-hm. Yep. Uhm-hm. That’s what I said.”

The surly lady looks up from the phone.

“We don’t keep those,” she says to me.

“What are you talking about?” I say to her.

“We throw those out,” she says.
The Author

Now the blood in my veins turns green. Like the Incredible Hulk, a bead of sweat forms and rolls down my forehead. I swipe it with the back of my hand. Muscles in my back and in my thighs start to expand through the layers of adipose fat and threaten to rip through my clothing.

“Wait a sec. You throw out the thick black plastic hangers, that have the embossed plate on them that say “Hickey Freeman?” The hangers that hang the suit perfectly? And that comes shipped with the suit from across the country in New York. The hanger that the fancy store uses to hang the suit?”

I’m riffing here.

“Let me just make sure I’ve got this right. Somebody takes the suit off of that fancy special hanger and throws that hanger into the trashcan. And then that person puts the suit on this fake flimsy piece-of-crap hanger?”

I keep going. I can’t help it.

“Now we have this hanger. This hanger that they use to hang the fake paper suits that they put bums in, down at the morgue when bums die destitute. The paper suits they put the bums in the caskets wearing. You’re giving me one of these crappy hangers that they hang the fake suits on. That’s what you’re giving me, this fake hanger piece of crap?”

I know there are such fake suits because they showed them to us during the field trip to the morgue in my high school class called “Death and Dying.”

“And you want me to believe that? Is that the story you want me to believe?” I ask.

The surly lady is staring at me with her mouth open, but still letting me know with her gaze that she wishes I would have a cardiac arrest and die on the floor immediately.

“And you want me to pretend that I don’t know that Cassie, or the owner of this place, did not steal my hanger? And that the hanger is not in the back of Cassie’s car. Or is not already in her closet, with one of her dresses on it. Or hanging one of her husband’s suits? Is that the story you’re telling me here, that I’ m supposed to believe?” I ask.

The surly woman is holding the phone, slightly off her ear now, so that Cassie can hear this insane tirade straight from the horse’s mouth. My mouth.

“Tell ya what. I’m going to give you guys 48 hours to get that hanger back to me. And if you don’t, I’ll take the nine other suits I was going to have tailored here, over to the Turkish Lady. Even though its farther away, and a little less convenient, and the Turkish Lady is not open on Sundays.”

I let them know what a big account they’re about to lose. I’m like a dry cleaning “whale.”

The surly lady thinks about it for a minute. Then she snaps back to her usual self.

“You can do . . . whatever . .. you . . . need . . . to . . . do,” she says in a perfectly sassy, sing-song voice.

I gotta admit. That was a pretty good response.
. . .

The Internet Research

“What are you doing?” my wife asked.

“I’m researching how much Hickey-Freeman hangers cost on eBay,” I tell her.

“Oh boy. Are you serious? Don’t you have any work to do? You know, our anniversary is coming up, have you bought me anything? Or researched any romantic getaways? Let me just answer that myself. That would be a ‘No’ right?” says Tracy. “Shocker,” she says.

“Do you know that they charge as much as $20.00 for one of those hangers? And these hangers on eBay are not even the nice ones. Like the one I had.”

“Why did you leave the fancy hanger at the dry cleaner? If it was so important to you” Tracy asks.

“Because not in my wildest dreams would it ever occur to me that they would steal my hanger. Or claim they threw it in the trash. That’s like taking your car to the dealer for an oil change, and when you go to pick it up, there’s a tire missing,” I say.

I’m pretty proud of that analogy I just made.

“You’re a buffoon,” says Tracy.

. . .

The Non-Apologetic Phone Call

A day later, my cell phone rang.

“Is this Mr. Clune?” said the female voice.


“This is the dry cleaner. We have the hanger,” she says.


“Yes, sir.”

“Great! I’ll be right over to get it!” I say excitedly.

“Tracy, I’m going to the dry cleaner! They have my hanger!” I yell upstairs to Tracy as I head to my car.

“Oh thank God! Hoo-ray,” I hear Tracy’s voice upstairs, dripping with sarcasm.

. . .

The Vindication

“Hi, I’m Mr. Clune here to get my hanger,” I say to the woman at the front desk.

It’s the same woman who handled the initial transition when I brought the suit in. It’s Cassie. She looks up and sees me, and I can see her expression change to mild disgust.

“Oh . . . here,” she says, as she reaches under the counter and produces my beloved hanger, and sticks it out at me.

I take the hanger in my hand. I can’t resist . . .

“Where was it?” I ask.

I can see the slight flinch in Cassie’s face. Like the facial tic that Inspector Clouseau’s boss used to get in the Pink Panther movies. I know what she is thinking.

She’s thinking “Can’t this fat bastard just take the thing? Or does he have to rub it in too?”

“Oh, they took it to the other location by accident,” she says.

What does that even mean? I think to myself.

. . .

I Had To Go To The Turkish Lady Anyway

I took another suit back to the same dry cleaner. I bought the suit online, and the dumb suit came with none of the buttons sewn on it. The four buttons that go on the sleeves were not sewn on, so I brought them to the nice Asian Lady.

I kind of knew we were in trouble when she looked at the sleeves with the same shock as I did back home when I saw that we had to sew the buttons on. When I came back to pick up the jacket, she had sewn the buttons on right through the inner lining of the sleeve.

It looked like I had sewn the buttons on.

“You’re not going to charge me for this are you?” I asked as I held the sleeve up to her face.

“No,” she said without a fight.

. . . 

The Turkish Lady

I walked into the new dry cleaner where the Turkish Lady does the tailoring. I showed her the sleeve.

“Tsk-tsk!” said the Turkish Lady, as her eyes bulged. “She didn’t charge you for that did she?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

“Good. You have to undo the lining, then sew it back up,” she said.

“I knew you would know what to do,” I said.

“Pick up in three days, on Thursday.”

“Okay,” I said.

I left the dry cleaner and went next door to the grocery store to pick up one or two items. I even threw in some flowers for Tracy.

I did not have to wait in line long, because I only had a few items and I cut ahead of someone who had a big cart full of groceries.

. . .

When I Got Home

I came into the kitchen, and Tracy looked up from her laptop.

“Oh, flowers, that’s so nice honey …” she said.

“Shit! Goddammit! Shit! No!” I screamed into Tracy’s face.

I just remembered that I left the hanger with the Turkish Lady.

The Author
. . .

Three Days Later

All three days I stared at the ceiling at night.

There’s no way they’ll try to steal my hanger. That’s impossible. That would be like Die Hard. Where he keeps getting trapped in tall buildings with terrorists. That could never happen twice.

On the third day, I went to see the Turkish Lady. When I walked in, I saw that the Turkish Lady was not there, but her nice friendly daughter was working the front desk. I handed her the ticket, and she made the roller coaster spin around until my jacket appeared.

The hanger was gone.

© Copyright 2020 Jack Clune

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