Monday, April 28, 2014

Chapter 35 –Pedal Steel Widow


I had joined a band with Paul Downing and Don Adey called Spitfire before we left for Europe. It was basically a cover band that did oldies of the artist we most admired. The Beatles, Dylan, The Who, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, you know...great stuff that you don’t really hear anymore in clubs. I had purchased a student model pedal steel guitar a “Little Buddy” made by MSA with three floor pedals and one knee lever. I had no idea how to play it, but was determined to learn and would be wood shedding in the spare bedroom. Poor Donna, the first year of our marriage and she was going to be a pedal steel widow.
Also in the band was Bob Feldman on bass and Steve Somethingorother on drums. The reason I don’t remember Steve’s last name was because he was the most forgettable drummer I have ever had the displeasure of playing music with—well maybe not the most, since there were plenty of bashers and thrasher out there in the Silverspoon days, but close to it.

Bob Feldman had the fortunate or unfortunate distinction of being Corey Feldman’s father. Corey was having a lot of problems at the time with substance abuse and many other disturbing scenarios and I hope that he has come out of it unscathed. One can only hope. Corey stated that he began the "Emancipation Proclamation in Hollywood" at age fifteen, when he was granted emancipation from his parents. He stated that he was worth $1 million by age fifteen and by the time the judge court-ordered the bank records to come forward, only $40,000 remained. I never knew this at the time Bob was playing bass in Spitfire but I never thought much about it at the time since Corey never showed up at any of our gigs. I hear he has a memoir called Coreyography and I’m curious about its contents—might even pick up a copy.
Spitfire was named by Adey and Downing, the latter hailing from Hull, Yorkshire, fancied the British WWII airplane that performed so well against the Blitzkrieg. It also is the name of one of the less desirable sports cars made by Triumph. I much preferred the TR-6—I had six or seven of them over the years. The Holy Grail was the TR-250 and I was fortunate to have one of those babies with overdrive. I sold it when I moved to Nashville. I kick myself every day. We had a regular gig at The Boat House on the Santa Monica Pier on Saturday nights and one night I brought my Little Buddy steel guitar. I only had the thing about three or four weeks but I managed to squeak and squeal out a few licks by then. I thought it sounded good on the song, Baby it’s You, by the Shirelles and written by Burt Bacharach (music) and Mack David (lyrics) and was also recorded by The Beatles. Sha la la la la la la la la.
Bob was the only bass player I knew that could break strings on his Fender Precision. I guess his amp was such a piece of crap that he could never hear himself (we did play as loud as the establishment would allow) therefore he plucked and pulled at those strings like they were Robin Hood’s bow and I knew it wouldn’t be long before metallic strands went snapping like rubber bands. His girlfriend was a zaftig Vegas-like woman named Francesca who followed him around like a puppy. She was certainly nice enough to bring a few herbal refreshments which I was only too happy to partake in the friendly confines of her VW bug. Sometimes they would invite some of their questionable friends down to the gig, one of them being porn star, Ron Jeremy. At the time I had no idea who Ron Jeremy was, but when I found out later, I had to laugh.
Saturday nights at The Boathouse could be a dud or it could be so crowded that when you scratched an itch you were never quite sure it was your own body part you were scratching. One night there was a shootout on the beach right outside the beachside entrance, which was where the stage was situated. I heard a few loud pops and at first thought it was a car misfiring, but then Paul yelled, “hit the decks, it’s a gun,” and I dove underneath my keyboard. Fortunately the shooters never entered the club but we were questioned by the police for hours. They probably thought it was a drug deal gone awry, and we, being musicians would be suspects.
At the time, I used to have mixed feelings about that gig. I was never in a “cover band” before in my life. Somehow I always managed to perform my original material, but these songs were so great, and Paul was such an authority on fifties and sixties music (the more obscure stuff) that I thought it was a real education to learn these shinny little gems, even though I didn’t write them. The other trepidation was, of course, Steve. I don’t know how we pulled it off, between Steve’s banal thrashings and Bob’s muddy arrow pulls. Of course, retrospect always proves to reflect the silver lining in all of my musical endeavors, and I look back at those times as some of the best I ever had.
My main focus now was mastering, or at least getting a handle on the pedal steel guitar. I play guitar, keyboard, harmonica, mandolin, bass, really anything with strings, but the steel guitar was an enigma that I found to be extremely challenging. The sounds that emanated from that room could kill a deaf cat. Squeak, squawk, whine, snap, crackle and pop. I would lock myself in the spare bedroom and before I realized it, seven or eight hours would fly by while I was leaning over that beast of an instrument. Donna would knock on the door and I would resignedly get up from my cramped and unnatural position to let her in with my lunch, dinner or breakfast, whichever the case may be. She called herself a Pedal Steel Widow.
One day when I was in The Guitar Center in Hollywood, there were a couple of “real” pedal steels over in the far corner of the guitar section. I sat down at an Emmons or Showbud steel and when I looked up out of my trance I saw this curmudgeon of a guy with poindexter glasses and hair that looked like it never saw a comb in its life staring at me.
“You need a universal,” he said.
“A what?”
“A pedal steel in universal tuning. It has twelve strings instead of ten and that way you could go from E nine tuning to C sixth just by engaging the right knee pedal. It is the best of both worlds—you won’t need a double neck.”
I looked at him like he was speaking Mandarin Chinese or some strange language spoken on the planet Mars.
“Look,” he said, “I just happen to have an extra MSA steel at home and if you are really serious about learning the instrument I could lend it to you.”
“You don’t even know me and you want to lend me a steel, which I assume is an expensive instrument?”
“That’s right. Are you game?”
I didn’t know what to think. Maybe this guy was going to rob me, but I really didn’t have anything to steal. Maybe he was gay and wanted my body, but if he made a move I could kick his scrawny butt in the time it would take to sneeze. What the hell, I thought. If this guy wants to lend a steel guitar to a somewhat perfect stranger, more power to him.
“Where do you live,” I asked.
“Echo Park, it’s not that far from here. You can follow me over.”
He lived in an old house with a guest room downstairs which he used for his recording studio. He was in the middle of a project where he painstakingly overdubbed pedal steel parts onto two sixteen track Otari tape machines through a Soundcraft mixing board. It was The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky. A very enterprising attempt. He sat me down and made me listen to a few tracks and, I must say, it wasn’t bad—weird but good. Over in the corner I saw the MSA universal. It was Formica white and had seven pedals and five knee levers. He saw me looking at the contraption and said, “that’s my spare steel. Here’s the deal. I will let you borrow it for six months but after that I will help you find one of your own. I must admit that my intentions are not as philanthropic as you might think. You see, I have a mission. I want the world to be aware of the universal tuning and the more people that play them, the better the chances of it becoming a mainstay in the industry.”
How could I argue with that? “Okay,” I said, “It’s amazing that you would do this, I mean, you don’t know me from Adam.”
“I could tell you were talented by the way you played, and after you said you were only a beginner, I thought, yes, this guy needs my MSA. I have insight about people, you see.”

An hour later the steel was packed up in its case and he was helping me carry it to my TR-6. It barely fit in the passenger seat. My poor wife was going to continue being a real pedal steel widow for a little while longer.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Chapter 34 – Sex Show Torture!

Have no fear, Irene is here! I couldn’t believe that Donna’s lifelong friend had followed over to Amsterdam from Glenrothes, Scotland. I remembered the first week Donna had moved into my place on Camrose Drive, Irene and Fiona had called from the Greyhound bus station and now this. Oh well, I knew at least she wasn’t going to be sharing our room. Or was she?
We walked into the elevator and headed down to the lobby and lo and behold Irene was there in all her glory with her boyfriend, Steve. Steve was a low key individual who more than made up for Irene’s boisterous, bubbly demeanor and I was glad he would probably hold back her reins. After hugs and kisses from the girls, we went into the bar and ordered some drinks.
“I canny believe you came here on our honeymoon, Irene,” Donna laughed.
“What are best pals for?” Irene shot back. Steve and I just looked at each other with “what are you gonna do” expressions. It seemed that they were only here for a couple of days then were going to tour the countryside leaving Donna and me to our own marital bliss. Still, I could appreciate Donna had such a good friend that wanted to give her a royal send off into married life. I don’t think I have any friends that are so loyal. In fact, in the twenty years that I’ve been in Tennessee, not one friend of mine from L.A. had even come to visit. (hint hint).
After Steve and Irene retired to their room, Donna and I went to a local bar to take in some of the color of Amsterdam. They had this drink I got into called Geneva, that was a lot like Ouzo and it had the same powerful kick. I ordered one for me while Donna stuck with a gin and tonic. I noticed there was a pool table in the back with some Rastafarian holding court. He was winning every game so I casually strolled over and put a coin down on the table indicating I wanted a go. It was eight ball. The rules of this particular game was that you had to bank the black eight ball in the final shot to win—and you had to call the pocket it was going to land in. No problem. I was down five balls when he finally missed his shot. I knew I had to clear the table which I did. The last shot was an unbelievable bank shot which sent the eight ball scurrying to the far corner pocket and dropped in the pocket. I won three guilder. I knew it was going to be a magical night.

Donna then tried to persuade me to go to a live sex show. I was dumbfounded. Here was the demure Scottish lassie, one that I thought was so pure and innocent and she was trying to lead me into a place where people screwed their brains out on a stage. I needed a few more drinks for that. I got good and buzzed then agreed to the proposition.
“I’m not asking you to go up on stage and perform, only be a silent observer,” she said.
On the way there, I saw a torture museum. I wanted to stop there first to get me in the mood. Sick right? I was stalling and she knew it. After making the rounds and sticking my head into the stockade for fun, (Donna almost got her head in), we were ready to go to the Moulin Rouge in the Red Light district.

We took our seats in the fourth or fifth row of the theater and waited with anticipation for the show to begin. There were a few preliminary male and female dancers who looked quite nice with costumes that rivaled the Follies Bergere brought up to date for the 1990’s. Then came the main event. A young naked couple in their early twenties pranced around the stage and began to have intercourse. I was embarrassed as hell and wasn’t turned on in the least. It was almost funny the way they acted, like they were shaking hands (except it wasn’t hands they were shaking) at a business meeting or buying insurance. I wondered how they could keep it up (literally) for more than half an hour. I kept pretending I was an alien sent to earth to observe the strange customs of its inhabitants. It was the only way I was going to get through it without laughing. I have a tendency to have these strange fantasies whenever I’m in a situation where it is embarrassing to be human. Sorry, I got to go, my spaceship is double parked.
We went back to the hotel and in my mind I was going to try out a few of the pointers I picked up on stage, without the yawns and lack of interest, of course. Unfortunately, by the time my head hit the pillow at one a.m. I was dead to the world. The private show would have to wait.

The next morning we were heading back to Glenrothes for a few more days and then home to America as married folks. I wondered how being a team would affect my life now. How would my friends act now that I was the only one who wasn’t single? I would have to revise the use of the pronoun “I” and insert the word “We” instead. It was going to have to take some getting used to. Still I was excited and looked forward to getting back home as Mr. and Mrs. James Haymer. But most of all I missed my dogs—OUR dogs.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chapter 33 –Amsterdam Honeymoon

Landing at the Luchthaven Schiphol twenty miles south of Amsterdam in the town of Haarlemmermeer, all we saw were orange and blue. The Netherlands had apparently just won the World Cup and they had their colors flying everywhere. It is a rather large airport, the fourth busiest in all of Continental Europe, and all the signs were in the looping and multi-lettered language of Dutch. Names like Zwanenburgbaan, Aalsmeerbaan, and Buitenveldertbaan blurred past as we scurried down the turquoise tiled corridors to meet the tram that would take us to the heart of the capital city. The Direct Rail Link connects Schiphol to Amsterdam Central and is the fastest and most convenient way to get to the city center. Trains run every ten minutes and in less than an hour we were on Leidsegracht St walking to our hotel, The American Hotel, of all places. With over a hundred kilometers of canals, ninety islands and fifteen hundred bridges, I wondered if it rivaled Venice, Italy for sheer amounts of water in the confines of a city. But like Venice the canals were the main way of transporting goods and materials in the past and present as well. It was truly a delight to see the Merchant houses with big narrow windows, decorative gable tops, narrow stairs inside and pulleys outside to transport larger objects to upper floor. I would hate to have to move a piano into one of those babies.

Architecture aside, I couldn’t wait to get into our room, relax and then go out and find what the place was famous for, good old European cannabis. Donna was more of the Bailey’s or gin and tonic kind of girl so I was going to have to keep the small amount of whatever I scored on the street for myself. As long as you didn’t flaunt it, like blowing a hefty stream of smoke in the face of a cop, it was basically legal there. I pounced on the platform bed and found it surprisingly firm, just the way I like it. It was a really nice, clean room with plenty of space to stretch out and a big bay window facing north with a great view of the city.
An hour later I told Donna I was going to check things out and would be back as soon as I could. I went to a round pavilion where I saw a local, or what I thought was a local dude, looking like he was a selling some of his wares. He shuffled past him and I heard him say “hashish”. I wasn’t sure if this was the best thing to do but I figured I would at least find out what he had and how much it was. He said he had a gram for twenty-five guilders, which was about eight dollars. What did I have to lose? I asked to see it and he clandestinely opened the baggie a crack told me to take a whiff. It smelled like the real thing to me so I bought it. He pretended to shake my hand we exchanged money for the goods. I should have known something was not right. If it was legal why was he being so secretive? It just felt shady. I went into a tobacco shop and bought a small meerschaum pipe for ten gilders then to a liquor shop and picked up a bottle of Chardonnay and a couple of Heinekens and headed back to the room. 
Since it was our honeymoon, I propped myself up on the bed and filled the pipe with the hashish. It didn’t remind me of anything I had seen before but I figured, this was Europe and things are different here. I lit a match and drew in the smoke. It was hard to get lit and I had to keep the match going until it burned down to my fingers. The smell was unmistakable but I wasn’t getting any kind of buzz.
“Donna, I know you don’t smoke this stuff, but will you try it?”
“I’ll stick to my good ole Bailey’s, thank you very much.”
“I just don’t think it’s working, and since you’ve never really smoked, you would be able to tell if something felt different.”
After a little more coaxing, Donna finally submitted. I let the pipe for her and she inhaled like Bill Clinton. She squinted up her nose and said, “I din na’ feel a thing.”
I tried it again...nothing. Upon further investigation I realized I had bought candle wax dipped in a smallest amount of hash oil to pass olfactory inspection. Ripped off. I went out to try and find the guy, but what would I do if I did find him? Cause a scene? Call the cops? I don’t think so.
Donna and I went out to get some java in a local coffee shop. I saw a fellow next to me who looked and sounded American and appeared to be kind of hip. I asked him point blank where a guy could get the stuff that was illegal in the States.
“You go down to The Bulldog Cafe on Leidseplein Square. They’ve got everything.”
“Great, thanks. Who do I speak with?”
“The manager, anybody really. They know what’s happening.”
After coffee, we walked down to the Bulldog. It was in the touristiest part of the city. There was an Ecuadorian pipe band playing outside with a ton of people standing, milling about and riding bicycles. Donna waited outside while I moseyed in. I saw the host approach as I entered the foyer. 

You can see by the look on her face in the picture above, Donna was not too pleased about my interests. She wanted to go bike riding, visit Anne Frank’s house or see museums, maybe even go to a live sex show, not score dope. I told her it was all part of the Amsterdam experience and we would most certainly do those other things later
“Table for one?”
“Actually, a friend of mine told me you could buy some, well, some marijuana here. Is that right?”
“Right this way, sir.”
He led me to the back dining room and opened the top drawer in a hutch. A cardboard sign flipped up and I could see a menu of drugs. At the bottom I saw sensimillia. I didn’t have to look any further.  Three grams for twenty-five guilder, the same price as the hash oil dipped candle wax I bought hours before.
“Wrap it up, I’ll take it,” I said as he handed me the small baggie and I stuffed it into the front pocket of my jeans.
When we got back to the hotel, the concierge walked towards us with purpose. Was I busted? Did the guy with the candle wax see me staking him out and had a message for me? None of the above.
“Sir, miss, you have a message from a visitor,” he said as he handed me the note.
It read: Have no fear, Irene is here!
I couldn’t believe it. Irene, Donna’s best and lifelong friend had followed us over to Amsterdam. I guess she wasn’t ready to relinquish her to the cheeky American quite yet.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Chapter 32 – The Knot is Tied

After moving my mother and sister out of the B & B it was time to get hitched. I went to the church or kirk on the green and cleaned myself up in the lavatory sink since I didn’t have time to take another shower. Donna was on the other side of the kirk and, as custom has it, I was not allowed to see her until her Dad walked her down the red carpeted aisle. I was getting nervous and wished my father was there to calm me down. Robbie was my best man but he seemed more nervous than me. I asked him if he still had the ring and he searched his pockets and said he must have lost it. Then he laughed and said he was only kidding. I was in no mood for levity but after a minute he broke up and I laughed along with him. It did ease the tension. Good one.
The sound of pipe organ music echoed through the chambers and I knew the time was nigh. I followed Robbie through the thick wooden doors into the sanctuary and then I see her. She was beatific beyond my wildest expectations. I knew then that I had made the best decision I would ever make in my life. I was ready to get married. I couldn’t help thinking I was the luckiest guy on the planet.
I looked out at the crowd of people who had come from the far reaches of the earth to witness one of the most important days of my entire life. I saw my Uncle Ellis and Aunt Enid dressed to the nines, my sister Susan in a lovely black and white print dress. She looked years younger than her actual age and I am happy to say that she still does. My wee mom looked radiant and overcome with emotion. I was hoping she wasn’t going to faint when Reverend Thompson brought out the cross or said “in Jesus’ name”.  I knew at least I wasn’t going to have to eat the Eucharist or drink the blood of the holy savior. It was, after all, The Church of Scotland not a Catholic cathedral. I saw my sister-in-law, Carol beaming with the glow of a woman knowing that she wasn’t going to be the only one in the family who had married a Haymer. Next to her were Max and the wee bairn, Emily, who would prove to be the star of the show at the upcoming reception at The Dunnikier House Hotel.
On the other side of the aisle were all of Donna’s relatives. Her mum and dad, Olive and David, who were stunningly dresses in traditional British attire, her two sisters, Beverly and Heather, Beverly’s future husband Roy, who was responsible for initiating The Silver Quiach, a golf tournament that one year brought home fifty drunken Scotsman to Pitlochry Links and one sober American who had thought he won it all until Robertson came in with a score of 75, one stroke lower than mine. I was relieved that I didn’t have to drink the traditional Glenlivet from the silver chalice. I was recently sober and had worried about it all that week. I ended up winning a gray Lyle and Scott’s sweater, or as the Brit’s call jumper.
Seated behind them were Donna’s Gran and Uncle Bob, Jessie and Bill Smollett and their son, Billy. The family from the Crossgates  and Cardenden contingency, Uncle Alec and Aunt Sheena and the older of his two son’s Robin and his wife Liz with their two children.
I stood there facing my bride to be as Reverend Thompson spoke his vows of foreverness and love. We responded in kind and before I could run away and hide, which were only idle thoughts self preservation and cowardice, we both had said, “I do.” I slipped the ring Robbie handed me on Donna’s finger and she place the gold band on mine and the deed was done. We were man and wife!
After the ceremony we went down the Glenrothes Town Park to be photographed by the finicky and effeminate Andrew Merridew. The day couldn’t have been more perfect. It had to be in the high seventies and not a cloud in the usually misty or inclement Scottish sky.

The reception was held in the main hall at The Dunnikier House Hotel where Donna and I had a room booked in the honeymoon suite for later to officially consummate our marriage. David and Olive had hired an authentic Scottish band that also played a variety of songs. I was very impressed with them, especially the guitar player who was able to wrestle out a Hank Marvin tone from his Stratocaster. The dances were fun and I even tripped the light fantastic with my new wife and just about everyone else in the room. We paraded to the Dashing White Sergeant, a Scottish country dance n 4/4 time, in the form of a reel. It is a progressive dance is performed by groups of six dancers. Then we broke into The Gay Gordons, where every couple dances the same steps, usually in a circle around the room. Then we moved right along to The Grand Old Duke of York where one of the steps is where Donna’s best friend, Irene improvised a step and as she glided along under my legs she goosed me as I pulled her through. I wondered if that was part of the tradition or if she was just being cheeky under the influence of alcohol—lots of alcohol—typical of a Scottish wedding, but without the proverbial drunk uncle getting up to sing and making a real arse out of himself.
The grand old duke of York
He had ten thousand men
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again
And when they were up they were up
And when they were down they were down
And when they were only half-way up
They were neither up nor down!
Then during the meal an unexpected turn of events happened. Wee Emily fell out of her highchair and landed in her head. She wasn’t moving and it gave everyone in the room a terrible fright. Carol and my Mom rushed over to her to see if she was all right and after a few minutes she was moving around and crying her eyes out. Of course everyone held their collective breath until the wee bairn broke the silence with her wailing. Her mother picked her up and carried her off to their room so they could properly examine Emily and give her a chance to rest up. Robbie followed Carol and so did my mother and Susan. They didn’t come back for over an hour and my brand new in-laws and all of the Scottish folk were a might upset to say the least. They wondered how the Americans could leave the reception knowing that the child was recuperating. They figured it didn’t take a whole army of relatives to see to her well being, just the mom and dad would have been sufficient and the house doctor would see to it that everything was ship shape.
The festivities were winding down around one in the morning and Donna and I were the only ones left at the bar except for the bartender and the cleaning crew. We toasted each other with some Bailey’s for her and a single malt scotch for me. It was then time to retire for the evening and head to our suite.
That night Donna and I have the most amazing “togetherness” and I was so happy I could have died right there and felt like I had done it all. Of course I didn’t want to really die since I had a lot of things I wanted to accomplish, among them was to have at least three children and watch them grow up with Donna by my side. We woke up wrapped in each other’s arms and she still looked beautiful draped in the sunlight streaming through the ancient, arched windows.

We took a walk around the grounds and climbed an old oak tree that must have been a hundred feet high. Of course we didn’t get any higher than ten feet up, but it was grand. It all was perfectly grand. When Donna and I got back to Bilsland Road in Glenrothes the vibes were as thick as black pudding which if you’ve never eaten it, it is like a warm blood clot. Mmmnnnn! I wasn’t sure if my new in-laws were upset about the Haymer’s leaving the party for so long or the fact that their daughter was going to be moving to America and how terribly they would miss her; (I now know somewhat how they feel since my oldest son, Jonathan, has been living in China for over nine months with plans of staying there for as long as six years). I had to focus now on our honeymoon to be spent in Amsterdam and resigned myself to keep a low profile until then. We were finally going to be alone in a completely different country where you could get just about anything you wanted and then some. Did I say alone? Not to be. There would be a note from two uninvited guests waiting for us at the Hotel American in Leidseplein.