Monday, June 30, 2014

Chapter 44 – He’s Out?

Even though I was enjoying my time with three year-old Jonathan, being a house-husband was more work than I thought it would be. He was going to Thompson Station Daycare three times a week which allowed me to pursue my writing and co-writing with various Nashvillians the other four days. I hooked up with Sean Patrick McGraw, a songwriter I had met in L.A. a few years back. Sean is a very talented singer/songwriter who is now still out there on the road living the dream. He has a single out now called I’m That Guy, which is a rocking little country ditty. Unfortunately, it is the same cookie-cutter mold of most of the other country songs these days with lyrics about beer, trucks and girls in cut-off jeans and cowboy boots. Sour grapes? Maybe.
Sean and I wrote a few really good songs together, one in particular that I liked called Halfway to Linda’s House, a story-song of a first unrequited love—how the protagonist never got any further than halfway in the relationship. Even though the songs were good, I thought the songs I write solo were far superior. I started playing the Nashville circuit of writer’s nights and whatnot and was beginning to get a following. I knew it was time to make a record. First I had to acquire some recording equipment and that was going to take money. Universal Data was dying a slow death since places like Staples, Wal-Mart and Office Depot had the same things I sold at much cheaper prices. I couldn’t compete with the Sam Walton way of doing business so I hung up my entrepreneurial shoes.
I figured I would get an insurance license and go into selling health and life. If you had a license you were legit, right? I couldn’t have been more wrong. After passing my insurance test I got a job at United Benefits, another generic name of a fly-by-night company in the same mold as Central Supply, my old typewriter ribbon joint in Hollywood. If you ever saw the movie, Glengarry Glen Ross, written by David Mamet and starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon and Alan Arkin, you would have a good idea what United Benefits was like. Cutthroat lies and deception was the name of that tune. At least they provided leads, which, depending upon how much product you sold the week before determined the quantity of prospective customers. I usually got about ten. Some salespeople got as much as twenty-five. I would average about three hundred bucks a week, not the greatest, but it was enough to save for a tape machine and a console, maybe a couple of microphones. I had enough guitars—maybe seven at the time. This was a few years before I discovered Ebay. I was buying and selling stuff from the paper, The Tennessean, it wasn’t as good as The Recycler in L.A. but it was all there was at the time in Nashville.
I didn’t have as much time to devout to my songwriting now and my pedal steel playing was getting a bit rusty. I found myself booking all my appointments near golf courses. That way if the customer didn’t buy the policy I would say, “That’s okay, I’ll call you later,” and would book over to the nearest course. I didn’t get very rich but my golf game was getting spot on. I was thinking about going pro. I was forty-three years old and if I played every day I could maybe make the Senior’s Tour (now called the Champion’s Tour) in six and a half years.
On or around New Year’s 1996, Donna and I wanted another baby. We practiced a lot. But on that evening in early January after an intense lovemaking episode I knew. I was right, she was pregnant and the baby was due in early October. Being the old fashioned type, we again didn’t want to be told the baby’s sex. Surprises were good, as long as the baby was healthy. Donna had the usual morning sickness in the spring and the summer months in Tennessee were unbearable. Of course Donna kept working right up until the time her water broke.
She was admitted to Williamson Medical Center on the first of October. This was during the baseball playoffs and fortunately her room was like a suite at the Hilton with a refrigerator, hard wood floors and the best thing of all—a television. In the early afternoon of the second, she went into labor. The Cleveland Indians were playing the Baltimore Orioles in an afternoon game at Oriole Park at Camden Fields. It was game two of the American League Divisional Series. The Orioles won the first game ten to four.
While I was helping Donna with her labor pains by getting her ice chips and placing a wet washcloth on her forehead, I was sneaking peeks at the game. Why not? It was the bloody playoffs! In the bottom of the fifth the score was one to nothing in favor of the Orioles. Brady Anderson lead off with a solo home run to make the score two nothing. With two outs and Orel Hershiser on the mound, Palmeiro singled to right and then he walked Bonilla. Man of first and second, two outs. Ripken strode to the plate and promptly belted a single in the hole between third and shortstop. One run scored and there was man on first and second. The Eddie Murray stepped up to the plate and hit a towering fly ball deep down the left field line for a double. Bonilla scored easily but as Ripken was rounding third I knew there was going to be a close play at the plate. Even though Donna was panting and getting close to delivering the baby, my eyes were riveted to the television. When I saw Ripken slide into home plate and the umpire’s right thumb went skyward I couldn’t believe it.

“He’s OUT?” I shouted. Donna looked down over her enormous belly with confusion. She thought I meant that the BABY was out. At the bottom of the ninth, at two-thirty p.m. he was. I was beyond ecstatic and forgot all about the game—well, almost.  It was a beautiful baby boy we named Daniel Harrison Haymer. Jonathan thought it was cool to have a little brother even though he cried a lot and, at times, didn’t smell so good. By the way, the Orioles won the game seven to four and would advance to the American League Championship against the New York Yankees who eventually won the World Series beating the Atlanta Braves four games to two. It’s good to have one’s priorities in order.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Chapter 43 – The Distance

Long distance home-buying is not always the best course of action, but for us it was unavoidable. It was the real estate agent, the one with the racist cop for a husband, who put us in touch with, Tim Bailey, an independent mortgage broker. He told us he would get the best loan package available. The average mortgage rate at the time for a thirty year loan was about six to seven percent, and after putting down the customary twenty percent down payment, it would leave a balance of around a hundred-thousand dollars.
The closing was to be held at the law offices of Tom Jones (not the Welsh song-belter) in Franklin, ten miles north of Thompson Station. Donna was suffering from an ear infection and the swelling was so bad she could hardly hear out of it. We should have cancelled the closing, but it was one of those things that were written in stone. I was going to take her to the doctor later in the morning—if we could find a doctor in this one horse town—probably would be a veterinarian. While at the closing with the real estate agent, the lawyer and his junior partner, a sick wife and me, Jonathan was running around the long rectangular table, playing hide and seek or capture the attorney. While I tried to concentrate on the three inch stack of papers that needed to be read and signed, Donna tried to distract Jonathan with a grape soda or stale candy from the crystal dish in the reception area. He was on a mission to be as awkward as any two-year old would be in a situation as boring and tedious as that—it wasn’t exactly Magic Mountain of Disney World.
I finally grabbed him and sat him down on my knee while he struggled to escape my grasp, Donna and I tried to concentrate on signing the deal that would affect the next thirty years of our lives. When it came to the page where the loan details were revealed we saw that instead of the six or seven percent interest, it was ten percent, and it wasn’t a fixed rate, but an adjustable. This was bad. I called Tim Bailey’s office and his home number but he couldn’t be reached.
 We could have postponed the closing, but all of our stuff was in boxes in the living room of our new house and we didn’t have anywhere else to stay since Chas’ cabin was being used for a session. Besides, I had a sick wife and a rambunctious child to attend to and no parents, aunts, uncles or cousins in the area to turn to for help. In fact, Chas was the only friend we had in Tennessee.  I was beginning to wish I had never left Los Angeles in the first place, but as most people who know me say, “That Haymer guy can be a bit impulsive.”
When people ask me why I moved to Tennessee I usually say, “I made a wrong turn at Barstow and kept going, and then I ran out of gas and had no choice but to stay.” Another one I like: When you are at a store and the cashier says, “That’s gonna be five dollars,” I stand around and wait. They ask, “Is there anything wrong?” I say, “No I was just waiting. You said that it was going to be five dollars, I thought if I waited, the price might come down.”
Another one: When you ask for directions here they tell you to turn right or left at landmarks that don’t exist anymore or they’ll say, “You make a left turn at the red light.” Then I say, “Sorry I’m late but I was going to make a left at the red light, like you said, but the signal changed to green so I kept going straight.” I can be such a wise-ass too.
I told Donna we should go ahead and sign the loan and as soon as we could we would refinance. What else could we do? We never did reach Tim Bailey, and when I stopped by his office the next week there was another sign over the door. He had vanished.
We were settling in to the farm house and Donna was doing better now drinking lots of fluids and taking antibiotics. Thompson Station at the time was a one horse town without any restaurants or supermarkets. The closest Kroger was ten miles away and the only place to get a bite to eat locally was at the diner in the Goose Creek Inn five miles away. One night we thought we would give it a shot. It was your typical greasy spoon with yellowed linoleum on the floor, squeaky ceiling fans and a menu that featured pulled pork, hamburgers and two kinds of fish. Our gum chewing waitress came by with a pencil stuck behind her ear.
“Have y’all decided what all y’all are gonna have?” she said in an almost unintelligible Southern drawl. Donna decided she would try the fish and wanted to know a little more about her choice between the two that were offered.
“I noticed you have two different kinds of fish on the menu. Can you tell me the difference?” Donna asked.
The waitress thought about it for a moment and scratched her head with the pointed end of the pencil. After what seemed like an eternity she answered, “The taste,” which sounded more like “the taay-yest”. Welcome to bum-fuck Egypt, I thought.
Chas was producing a few tracks for my neighbor, Billy Ray Cyrus at the time when Miley was still running around in diapers. It was at Chas’s twenty-four track studio at the cabin where we first stayed when we moved to Tennessee. I was hired to play pedal steel guitar and sing background vocals on a track called, The Distance, an original Chas Sandford composition. Just two weeks earlier, at Christmas, I had come down with a nasty flu and was so sick I lost three days in a feverish malaise. I had no idea that we had a visitor who came to the door dressed as Santa Claus bearing gifts. I guess this particular Santa didn’t know that we had a boy, because when he opened the present it was a doll. Still it was a nice gesture. Who was this man dressed as Santa? It was our neighbor—Billy Ray Cyrus. I don’t care what people think about the guy, especially after coming out with the painfully banal song, Achy-Breaky Heart, and he won’t get any awards for father-of-the-year now, but after what he did that Christmas I could never think of him in a bad light—in fact, he is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people in the music business. Well, the album didn’t get finished for some reason or other at the time, but Billy Ray held onto the song and it was just released as the title track to his 2014 record. He had gone the distance. By the way, my pedal steel is all over that record, and it is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. Way to go Billy and Chas!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Chapter 42 – T-Bird Trauma

About a couple of years earlier I was looking in the local paper for an old Thunderbird. I always like the 61-63 series after seeing the movie Palm Springs Weekend with Connie Stevens and Troy Donahue. In that movie there was a 1963 red T-Bird convertible. In the paper there was a 1961 white hardtop T-bird with red leather interior for $1200 in original condition. I had to have it, and for that price, if it was as good as advertised, I wouldn’t even haggle on the price—at least not too much.
Donna and I drove out to Pasadena with cash in hand to look at the car hoping it would be all that I dreamed of. After ringing the bell on the front door, a little old lady (yes from Pasadena) answered. She said the car used to belong to her husband who had died about a year earlier and she wanted it to go to someone who would take good care of her. I was her man. The car was in great basic shape for its age—sure it would need a paint job and a tune-up, but other than that it was good to go. I offered her $1000 cash and we agreed on $1100. Sold.
The most distinctive feature of the car was the highly touted “Swing Away” steering wheel and a 390 cubic inch FE series V-8 It was a real gas hog, but gas was a lot less than it is now a gallon so I didn’t sweat it. The main problem with the car was the brakes. If it was raining you had to be careful since the brake booster was very temperamental. Sometimes they would fail completely and you had to rely on the emergency brake to stop. I didn’t usually drive it in the rain and made sure only to take it out on the bright, sunny California days.
A year later I finally made the decision to have her painted. My car aficionado friend Paul Downing told me the place where I had my TR-6 painted had moved and were now downtown L.A. near Crenshaw and Addams. I would get a great deal. For $600, it would look as good as new.
While the car was in the shop, Donna’s cousin from Scotland Alastair and his wife Corrine, born in Mauritius had come to visit. Alistair looked a lot like a skinny John Lennon in his White Album days and Corrine a lot like Lucy Liu when she was in the Charlie’s Angels movie. They were taking the train down from San Francisco and we met them at the downtown Los Angeles train station near Olvera Street, the oldest part of the city. We did the usual tourist thing, ate taquitos and churros, those long sugary things that would rot your teeth in an Acapulco minute, and then headed back to our place on Vine Street. We chatted and they told us of their windsurfing adventures, exchanged photographs and after dinner we dropped them off at their hotel in Hollywood—I’m not sure which one, but it was probably The Hollywood Roosevelt.
On the day they were scheduled to go to their next stop, which was Las Vegas, we told them we would give them a ride downtown to the train station.  I would be killing two birds with one stone by dropping my TR-250 off to be painted teal and driving my freshly painted T-Bird back to pick Alistair and Corrine up at a friend of theirs in the valley—Van Nuys, I think. The five of us, Alistair and Corrine, Donna, Jonathan and me were cruising down the 101 on a Sunday morning headed downtown when I heard a strange grinding noise coming from the front left wheel. As I was pulling over to the right hand lane in an attempt to park it on the shoulder to check it out, the noise got louder and a second later I saw my front tire careen up over the hardtop off the car and go rolling across the median past the left lane. The T-bird skidded along the freeway and I could see sparks shooting on the road. I had the presence of mind to make a hard right and navigate the beast to the shoulder right before the Laurel Canyon exit. Thank God nobody was hurt, but I was afraid to look at the damage. I knew it wasn’t going to be good. Apparently, the body shop mechanics forgot to tighten the lug nuts on the front left wheel. Do I hear lawsuit? One thing for sure, there was no way we were going to make it downtown to the train station on time.
I got out of the car and inspected the damage. The only thing I could see wrong was a black tire mark on the hardtop. The front left brake drum looked a little suspect, but not destroyed. Since it was Sunday the traffic on the freeway was fairly sparse. I waited for an opening and darted across four lanes on the 101 and rescued my wheel. The tire still looked in reasonable shape. I waited again for the traffic to clear and bolted back to the car. If we would have had a cell phone, Donna would have called AAA, and I was nowhere near a phone box. Fortunately, I had a jack in the trunk and was able to jack the front end up and replace the tire to its proper position. I don’t think it took more than thirty minutes all told. I tightened the lug nuts and prayed that it would be road worthy. It was.
My mom still lived on Canton Drive which was only a five or ten minute drive from the Laurel Canyon exit. I asked Alistair and Corrine where the next train stop was and they said they thought it was some place called Simi Valley. It wasn’t that far. I said to them that if my mom was home, I could borrow the Mercedes, (since I didn’t want to risk going in the T-Bird until I checked it out, and I was pretty sure they wanted to avoid the death trap like the plague). The Mercedes was parked in the driveway. I introduced them to my mother and she told our visitors to make themselves at home. Alistair called AMTRAK and we had forty-five minutes until the train arrived in Simi Valley—no sweat. We all piled in the Mercedes and made it there in half an hour. They made their train and when we got back to Canton Drive I checked out the T-Bird. After I cleaned the skid mark off the hardtop, it was perfect. I guess I would forgo the lawsuit after all. It wasn’t worth the hassle.
Now two years later, after coming back from our trip to Nashville, we knew we needed a good family car and went shopping for a good used Jeep Cherokee. I wanted a good four wheel drive, but Donna didn’t care as long as it was in good shape and had low miles. We had about ten grand to spend from my father’s life insurance policy, the rest would be used for moving expenses and whatnot. The fourth or fifth Cherokee was a Gray 1990 with less than thirty-thousand miles. I couldn’t even remember if it was 4 x 4 or not. While Donna was at work and Jonathan was at the day care place run by an attractive Israeli woman out of her house in Canoga Park, I drove my T-Bird out to West Hills to get another look at the gray Jeep.
I wasn’t five blocks out of my driveway when the clouds burst open and a deluge poured down. I knew it was risky for the brakes in my T-Bird but I threw caution to the wind and kept driving. I made it to the house in West Hills and the owner and I had reached a tentative price on the car. I told him I would talk it over with Donna and let him know as soon as possible. I was driving down a side street heading for Northridge Boulevard when I applied the brakes. Nothing. There I was headed for a busy street with no brakes going forty miles an hour. I managed to step on the emergency brake but it was not doing anything but slowing me down and then I downshifted to low. Still rolling.  I was going around fifteen or twenty when I saw the intersection quickly approaching. I had only fifty feet left before I would smash headlong into a river of cross traffic. I had to think fast. I guess that I could have thrown the gear into park but that would have ruined my transmission. I knew there was another way.

I turned off the ignition key  but the car kept moving and now I had no power steering and the car weighed at least two and a half tons. I pumped and then pushed as hard as I could on the brakes hoping it would slow me down enough to make a hard right turn and then I would immediately get into the parking lane hoping there were no parked cars. When I got to the intersection I turned the wheel right as hard as I could and I was panicked to see a Toyota or Honda parked in the red not more than fifty feet ahead. I knew I was going to hit it but what else could I do? My front bumper collided with the black rubber bumper of the Japanese import and moved it twenty or thirty feet forward. I got out of the car and inspected the damage. I couldn’t see any at all. Not only was there no damage but I had managed to move the illegally parked car I hit into a proper space. I had an hour or two left before I had to pick Jonathan up at day care and I was stuck in West Hills with a car without brakes. I walked back to the house with the Jeep and told the guy I wanted the car on one condition. He had to drive me to the day care and then follow me to the bank. He did and I bought the car. I felt blessed and thankful for the reprieve. While driving the Jeep home I reached down to switch to four wheel drive. There was no lever. I had bought the one that was a two wheel drive. Oh well, less things to go wrong and we were about to embark on a two-thousand mile journey to Nashville. I wasn’t going to quibble over small potatoes. I was alive, the T-Bird was undamaged and I made it to day care in time. MAZEL TOV AND HALLELUJAH!!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Chapter 41 – Beverly Hillbillies in Reverse

In March of 1994, Donna, Jonathan and I went to Nashville to visit with my good friend, Chas Sandford, who had moved to Franklin, Tennessee. He was living in a mansion on Bear Creek Road in a place called Beachwood Hall which at one time was where the legendary Hank Williams hung his hat. I heard stories that the downstairs was so full of mud from the hundred head of cattle wandering in and out of the antebellum mansion. Now that’s the cowboy way! This historic home is 6,856 square feet and was built in 1856.
The first night I spent with Donna in one of the guest rooms called “the yellow room”.  I had a dream I was serving as a Union foot-soldier in the Civil War. On the field of battle, a Confederate officer on horseback galloping with sword in hand approached me. I took a firm stance but I was no match for this valiant opponent. He drew back his sword and swung a mighty blow and I saw my right arm fall to the blood-stained ground. I woke up clutching my arm to make sure it was still attached. Thank God it was. Donna told me she heard my moans and groans but knew it can be dangerous to be awakened from a traumatic dream was afraid to disturb my restless slumbers. The next morning when I told Chas about my dream, he said the house was definitely haunted. It was once used as a hospital for injured Confederate soldiers and it made me wonder if what I dreamed was not a glimpse into the past.
There is a 3330 square foot log cabin that was built in 1850. The cabin was recently refurbished and had a 24 track recording studio in the living room. This is where we stayed. Coming to Nashville had a three-fold intention. The first was for me to attend a two day songwriting seminar at the Lowes Vanderbilt Hotel. The second was to visit Chas and the third was to scout out Nashville as a possible place to relocate to.
 A couple of months earlier in the wee hours of January 17, 20 month old Jonathan was having a restless night. Donna and I were taking turns seeing to him and trying to figure out why he was tossing and turning and crying his little eyes out. Was he sick? Did he swallow something ominous? We didn’t know what was wrong with him but he kept waking up every half-hour. Jonathan was usually a very sound sleeper but this night and early morning was out of the ordinary. I had just come back to bed at 4:29 a.m. and was sitting up on the edge next to Donna when the ground began to shake violently. I soon realized it was an earthquake and I jumped over to protect Donna from any falling debris. She yelled, “Jonathan!” I got up quickly and swayed like a drunken man to his room across the hall. It was like walking on a sinking ship during a tsunami. Somehow, I managed to pull him out from his crib just before a heavy picture frame was shaken off the wall over him. If I had hesitated it would have struck him in the head. The room was oscillating like a carnival ride as Donna followed me with Jonathan in my arms to the living room trying to navigate our way through the debris. Falling televisions, broken glass, shattered kick-knacks and memorabilia we had collected over the years, everything in the house flew like a demonic possession—a tempest in a tumultuous teapot. The French window in the living room pulsated in waves like a riptide as furniture slid across the floor. We found shelter under the dining room table and waited for the shaking to subside. In reality the tremors only lasted a minute or two, but it seemed like an eternity. Of course, I didn’t have any batteries in my transistor radio (you never seemed to be prepared for moments like these) so I grabbed my keys off the hook in the kitchen. I noticed the refrigerator had moved six feet from the wall and pots and pans littered the room. It looked like The Who had a party the night before.
I ventured out to the driveway and climbed into the jeep Cherokee and then turned on the radio. I heard the announcer report that a 7.1 earthquake ha hit the Los Angeles area and that, get this, it WASN’T the BIG ONE that California had been expecting for ages. “Not the big one?” I couldn’t believe it. “Hell, it was big enough for me! If this wasn’t the big one than there is no way I’m going to stick around for it. The next couple of days were traumatic and Donna slept in her clothes in fear that she should have to run out of the house at a moment’s notice, and after every aftershock, which were plentiful, that’s exactly what she did. The chimney had to come down and the walls were all squint and misshapen. The place had major damage and if it weren’t for the earthquake insurance policy, we would have been up shit’s creek without a paddle.
We went back to Nashville a couple of months later to specifically to look for a place to live. Maybe we would rent but we preferred the idea of buying a house since the prices were so reasonable. We were in Chas’ living room talking about how beautiful Williamson County is, (the southern, adjacent county to Davidson—where Nashville is located) and how it would be a great place to bring up children while still being able to pursue a career in music. Chas had a lawyer friend by the name of Carolyn, who said she had seen an old farm house for sale about five miles away from Beachwood Hall and asked if we wanted to drive by there and take a look. I was game. Why not? We had already seen a few places that we liked but had not really fallen in love with in the area.
Driving the winding back roads we made a left on Thompson Station Road with anticipation. On the north side of the street was a big white farmhouse on a hill with four chimneys with two dormers and two old-fashioned porches, one even had a swing. It was love at first sight—for me anyway. The house built in 1912 was originally called The Elmore House and it had three acres of land. I already imagined us living there and how I would build a golf hole. I could hit a drive as far as I wanted and the only thing I would hit would be a cow or a rabbit. Donna wasn’t as knocked out by the place as I was. I think she had visions of moving into a newer place in a subdivision with sidewalks and a community pool, but my powers of persuasion were in high gear.

We contacted the real estate agent, a woman by the name of Ginger Johnson and she came out and met us at the house posthaste. The asking price was $148,000. If this house were in Beverly Hills it would have been worth well over a million bucks—maybe two million. We haggled and negotiated a deal to buy the place for $138,000 if they would throw in the storage barn. There was already a smokehouse and an old silo on the property and she even included the Sears riding mower. We signed a contract contingent that we sold our house in Woodland Hills. I wasn’t too hopeful because the place on Santa Lucia had extensive earthquake damage. What did we have to lose? If the house didn’t sell we were no worse off for wear.
After signing the contract, Ginger invited us out to dinner at the Outback Inn located in Franklin, ten miles to the north. We sat in a booth with Ginger and her husband who was a sheriff in Williamson County. He was telling us how safe the county was from crime and the kids would love it here. We said we only had one child but planned on having another one soon—maybe two more. That’s when he said something that still turns my stomach to this very day.
“Yep, this place is so safe and peaceful-like. I know because I’m a cop. In fact there was only one murder in Franklin the whole of last year but he was only a “nigger” so it don’t rightly count.”
Did he just say what I thought he said—the “N” word? Donna and I were appalled and I wanted to cover Jonathan’s ears. The rest of the meal I stared at my food. There was no way I could even look the guy in the eye. I wanted to punch his out but he was a cop and I thought maybe it wouldn’t be such a good idea. What were we doing here? We were going to move to a place where the sensibilities and prejudices were so backward and small-minded? To this day neither Donna nor I have ever gone back to The Outback Inn.

I tried my best to forget what the racist pig of a cop said and we left Tennessee. The day we got back I called James Gary and Associates to put the house in Woodland Hills up for sale. It sold in six weeks and we were moving to Nashville. We were shocked—not only by the move, but what and where we were moving to. It was like the Beverly Hillbillies in reverse.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Chapter 40 – Scottish Yankee

Donna only spent one day in the hospital and at dusk on March 14, I drove her and the new baby boy, Jonathan back to the house in Woodland Hills. He seemed to like it. My mom, Susan and later, my brother and his wife and two kids came by for the unveiling. Max, 6 ½ was glad he wasn’t the only male Haymer kid in the world. Emily, just slightly over two years old wanted to pick him up as if he was a new doll. I told her it would be best if she kept him on the baby blanket in the living room and could play with him all she liked. Jonathan was a smashing hit. I was so proud of not only him, but of my wife, who was looking no worse for wear.
After the first week of visitations, things were settling down. Reality had hit like a slap in the face and it was time to get back to work, writing songs, selling computer supplies and filling up laser cartridges. I had a new inspiration but couldn’t find anything in lyric that would accurately describe the feelings I had. It wouldn’t be until two years later until I wrote a song called “Questions” about the things two-year olds ask and how the bewildered father has no answers. It was the final song on my first solo CD entitled “See You Around”. It’s on Reverb Nation if you want to give a listen.

About a month later, Olive Smollett, Donna’s mum came to visit on her own. It was her first time on any kind of flying contraption and it goes without saying, she was a wee bit nervous. When we left the airport and got on the 405 she panicked. She had never seen so much traffic in her life and with the eight lanes of cars, trucks and busses crammed bumper to bumper, I thought she was going to turn around and head back to Scotland. She persevered and made it to Santa Lucia Drive without any further incident. My mom and Susan were already at the house watching and taking care of Jonathan and when Olive got a look at her first grandchild it was a tearful (in a good way) moment. It was fortunate that Donna had a three month maternity leave and was able to spend time not only with Jonathan and me, but her mum, too. After a little more than a fortnight, Olive was sad to leave but it was time for Donna and I to get down to the business of parenting.
In July, Donna got a new job four days a week in West Hills for Tom Reed and Associates but it was still difficult for her to leave the baby. I assured her that he was in the capable hands of his father and, if I needed anything, she was only a phone call away. The only faux pas I experienced was the time I was changing Jonathan with the cloth diapers we got from a service that would deliver the fresh “nappies” and pick up the soiled ones every week. He was on the changing table while I stuck two safety pins through the corners. I was wondering why he had a frown on his face. I undid the diaper and realized I had pinned the safety pins right through his skin. I couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t even crying or anything. I quickly re-pinned the diaper properly and thank God there wasn’t even a trace of blood. Brave wee lad—stupid father. After that, I always checked and re-checked my diapering skills and never did anything so negligent again.

On the fifth of September 1992, Donna’s sister, Beverly was getting married to a swell Scottish chap named Roy Brannen and the three of us flew into London’s Heathrow airport in late August with plans to take our time touring the British countryside. Once again my mom was dog-sitting for Bridget Bardog, Ginger and cat-sitting for the latest addition to the family—a gray kitty, Buddy. I named him that after Buddy Holly and steel guitarist, Buddy Emmons—two of my heroes. After eating lunch in an Indian restaurant in SoHo we headed off to Cambridge having already visited Oxford on the last trip. We were walking down the cobblestone backstreets of the illustrious college town when Donna stopped to give Jonathan a drink of juice. That’s when he said it—da, da—his first words at just over three months old. Brilliant child—he must take after his mother. I was so elated that it was me he was trying to communicate with—maybe it was only a coincidence you say, but you’ll never convince me of that.
Wandering through the Yorkshire Moors we found a brilliant B & B that served the best chicken Kiev I had ever tasted. After stuffing our gourds we traversed some of the most mysterious looking place I had ever seen since Sleepy Hollow. The legends of Poe and Dickens filtered through my head and if I ever had to move somewhere out of the country; I think this might be the place. We traveled west through rolling hills and mountainous terrain of the Peak District on out was to visit my cousin Jason and his wife-to-be Nicky in Wilmslow, a suburb of Manchester. Jason was extremely taken with three month old Jonathan and gave him a gift of an Ecuadorian uke (which we still have). We jammed some faves, Jason on his upright bass and me on a guitar that he had stashed away with rusted out strings (a little rubbing alcohol on those babies akes care of it).
After tearful goodbyes, it was off to Scotland. We arrived in time for us to rent our wedding garb. Yes, it’s true. I didn’t wear a kilt for my own wedding, but for this one I donned a Stewart Tartan with reds, blacks and tans. I had the entire get-up. Sporran, Sgian Dubhs (pronounced Skian-doo—which is the wee knife you wear in your sock—Scottish wedding can become a wee bit rowdy) vests and funny shoes (see photo). I didn’t bring my own guitar, a blonde J-200, but Irene’s boyfriend at the time, a rouge named John, just happened to have an exact replica and he let me borrow it. I was a little upset with John because the night before the wedding he and I went to a casino in Dundee while Irene and Donna were out visiting with friends. I was winning over two hundred pounds and I wanted to quit while I was ahead. I told John to give Irene a call and have them meet up with us so I could collect my winning and get out of there. It is my theory that if you stay too long at the crap tables you’re bound to lose. John returned to the tables and said the girls were having such a good time they wanted to hang out for a few more hours. This, I found out later was a bold faced lie. They were ready to leave but John had insisted that I wanted to stay at the casino since I was winning a fortune. I didn’t throw it all back to the house, but most of it.
It was your typical Scottish wedding with all the traditional dances and drinking and yes it’s true, a real Scotsman doesn’t wear a thing under his kilt. I couldn’t help but find this out when one of the guests did a cartwheel on the dance-floor. There weren’t any brawls or family squabbles, so I guess it was atypical in that sense.

Back to America and to real life in our cozy cottage in Woodland Hills. My friend Chas, who also lived three miles away on Queen Victoria Road, was making plans to move to Nashville. I couldn’t believe it. Nashville? But, on the other hand, it did make sense. He was born and raised in Atlanta and knew all about that “Southern thang”. Soon an act of God would turn our whole world topsy-turvy, and a change in locale would be imperative. Where would we go? New York? Seattle? Nashville?