Sunday, July 29, 2018

Philly Dilly

There's a huge part of me that doesn't want to jinx this, but I'm going to write about it anyway.

Here it is: When I summoned up the National League East standings this morning, there were my Philadelphia Phillies still in first place, 2 1/2 games in front of Atlanta.

Whoa. It's now the end of July. The Phillies have 58 games left in the regular season, so now it's a race against time to see if they can hold on long enough to clinch a division title.

It's oh-so unexpected. The Phillies are generally regarded to be one of the youngest – if not the youngest – team in major league baseball. They were not picked by most experts to do this well this soon. And, indeed, there's still enough time for the bottom to fall out.

Most of us Phillies fans still remember – vividly – the collapse of 1964. The Phillies held a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games left to play.

And lost 10 straight. St. Louis won the pennant that year.

These old hats of mine are not a prediction, but rather, just a predilection...
 Believe it or not, 1964 was the year I became a Phillies fan. We'd just moved back down to Bethlehem, PA, after a four-year residency in New Hampshire and Connecticut. I was 13 years old and baseball was a big part of my summer tapestry. The Phillies were an hour away and in first place. I became a fan. Jim Bunning. Chris Short. Tony Taylor. Cookie Rojas. Clay Dalrymple. Richie Allen. Johnny Callison. They're still like family members to me.

In fact, I know the 1964 roster better than I know the 2018 roster. After Rhys Hoskins, Ceasar Hernandez and Carlos Santana, I'm pretty much lost. Go Phillies.

Although I must say, since the team has been doing relatively well this year, I've followed them with more than passing interest. I actually check the standings most mornings now.

Something is going on in Philadelphia, though. I mean, first the Eagles win the Super Bowl. And then Villanova, a smallish Catholic school in the suburbs, wins the NCAA championship. And now the Phillies? It's too good to be true.

Time for a cheese steak.

I do have a back-up plan in case the Phillies falter. I still follow the Boston Red Sox. This is a love affair that's actually deeper than my fandom of the Phillies. Because, you know, we lived in New England during my formative baseball years. Ted Williams. Pumpsie Green. Vic Wertz. Frank Malzone. Tracy Stallard. Bill Monbouquette.

I've always been fascinated with Fenway Park, and no doubt, that's part of the Boston allure for me. Old School. Green Monster. Bunker Hill.

This year, the Red Sox might be the best team in baseball. They are 40 games over .500 with a wowzer 73-33 record and showing no signs of stopping. They are 5 1/2 games ahead of the New York Yankees, but anything can happen as we make the turn into the stretch drive.

But for now, I think I'll just sit back and enjoy seeing my two favorite teams playing good baseball at the same time. How often does that happen?

Not often enough.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Spiders and snakes

Is it me, or have the spiders arrived early and in force this year?

I spent a good part of my day yesterday with broom in hand trying to clean away spider webs. And not just a few spider webs. A ton of spider webs. The balusters on my front porch are clearly woven together with silky webs.

The mailbox attached to the front of my house appears to be particularly attractive to spiders. So do the corners of most of the windows on my house.

Spiders have done their work everywhere, including our flower boxes. Some of our geraniums are now connected to the siding of our house, and the steps leading up to my back porch are also webbed.

It's amazing.

I try to clear away the webs as often as I can, but spiders apparently are insistent. I can remove a web one day and it'll be back the next.

Caught in the act: This spider is already at work this morning...
I'm not a big fans of spiders – I don't screech "Eeek" when I see one; I emit more more like a groaning "Yuck" – but every once in a while, like early in the morning when it's still dark and I head to my car in the driveway as I prepare to go to the YMCA, I'll walk face-first into an unseen web that was spun overnight. That's a "yuck" moment.

The back of my mind keeps whispering "recluse" or "black widow," but what can I do beyond setting up Klieg lights?

I started noticing the spiders in early June and thought to myself that this might be unusual. Don't spiders usually show up en masse around September and October? Isn't that why they're so popular around Halloween? I don't know.

Spider webs are all over my front porch...
Snakes haven't been much of a problem in our neigh-borhood, although some of my friends on Facebook are posting pictures of the black snakes and occasional copperheads that show up in their garages and driveways. Nice. Thank you for that.

Still, I keep a wary eye out whenever I'm doing yard work. Shortly after we moved here about 15 years ago, one of our neighbors was bitten by a snake while clearing his backyard. Thus the lane behind us has been known as "Copperhead Alley" ever since. Local lore there.

The good news is that we live in a neighborhood where there are a couple of free-ranging cats, who happen to be natural foes of snakes. We've been told the cats have been bitten so often that they are now immune to the copperheads. Consequently, now and then we might see a baby snake carcass lying belly-up in the yard. Good cats. Kim occasionally puts a bowl of cat food out for them. I don't know if she's rewarding them or enticing them to stay. Maybe both.

Spiders and snakes. I don't know. We share the planet with them, so I guess we just have to cope.

And hope we don't live near a road named Sharknado Alley.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Underhill Rose, minus one, plus two

For my wife Kim and myself, the anticipation level had reached a different plane. Not higher. Not lower. Just different.

We always look forward to hearing Underhill Rose perform at High Rock Outfitters, but on Saturday, for the first time in the six years or so that we have been following them, we would see them as a duo instead of a trio.

Salley Williamson, the upright bassist who provided a third part of near angelic harmony to the group, left the band last October to reclaim something like a normal life beyond plucking strings and touring down Interstate highways every weekend.

We didn't know what to expect.

We shouldn't have worried.

Guitarist Molly Rose Reed and banjoist Eleanor Underhill, who began life as Underhill Rose about 10 years ago as a duo, were back to their roots. They met while attending Warren Wilson College near Asheville, and then soon after became part of a well-regarded local female string band, the Barrel House Mamas. When that group eventually dissolved, Molly and Eleanor decided to strike out on their own.

That decision makes the rest of us who follow them very, very lucky. Their harmonies have almost always seemed effortless, and to make things just right, they are both accomplished musicians. Eleanor, in fact, can accompany herself with the harmonica while at the same time bringing her banjo to its knees. It's truly something to see. And hear.

On this particular night, Gary Oliver – who's traveled off and on with the band before –  was playing upright bass (he can also play drums), providing the girls a steady, bold and confident bass line.

And drummer Michael Rhodes was also there, giving Molly and Eleanor one less thing to worry about (he said) while establishing rhythm and beat.

They played two sets Saturday night, tossing in a couple tunes now and then that we hadn't heard before in their show. Molly served up "Dublin Days," a wistful song she penned about their tour to Ireland last year. I wanted to hop on a plane and go.

Eleanor gave us her "Captured in Arms," inspired by the massacre at the Bataclan Theater in Paris in 2015. It's an unlikely tune for Underhill Rose to perform, but I'd heard her sing it before in a solo performance in Asheville last year. This time, with Molly, Gary and Michael backing her, it was an amazingly moving song. The line "Please don't kill my friends anymore" is a hard one to let go. (Listen here )

During the first set, Eleanor told the audience to feel free to ask for requests. About five or six were suggested (including "Freebird." Sigh), and consequently, about half of the songs planned for the second set were bumped by the requests. That was cool.

I asked for two cover tunes: Jamey Johnson's "In Color," and John Prine's "Long Monday." I love both of these songs in any case, but Molly and Eleanor have somehow made them their own. Johnson and Prine ought to pay them performance fees. "Long Monday," a plaintive but thoughtful love song from a master lyricist is special, especially with Eleanor's melancholy harmonica bridge and soulful vocal interpretation. It's an earworm that is still with me days after the concert. The difference is I don't want it to go away. (Listen here).

Changes are possibly on the horizon for Underhill Rose. They are still negotiating a landscape without a third voice. Duo or trio – which way will they go? Meanwhile, Molly is pregnant with her and her husband's (Tyler Housholder of The Broadcast) first child. How will parenthood affect band dynamics? And Eleanor is preparing for her first solo CD release.

I'm a selfish guy when it comes to Underhill Rose. I just want them to continue on for as long as they can. The harmony. The talent. The personalities.

It just all adds up.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


I just completed a bucket list item that I didn't even know was on my bucket list.

My neighbor, Perry Leonard, gave me a ride in his 1952 Willeys CJ-3A Jeep. I was both excited and hesitant at the same time. I was excited because I enjoy classic vehicles, and what could be more classic than a vehicle that looks like it could have landed at Omaha Beach?

But I was hesitant because, you know, there are no airbags. No doors. No roof. No rollbar. Perry's wife, Jeanne, refuses to ride in it because she figures there are only two viable options for her: (a) getting thrown out of it, or (b) getting crushed by it. Maybe both.

Perry Leonard stands over his 1952 Willeys Jeep.
I decided to suck it up. When Perry came by to pick me up, I eagerly hopped in the passenger seat and buckled my seatbelt, the only concession to safety in sight. Unless, of course, you factor in Perry's driving ability. I was counting on that.

I actually thought my chances for survival were pretty decent because, according to Perry, the vehicle rarely goes faster than 35 miles per hour. I think the gearing must be really low because when he motors down the road, the engine almost screams and it sounds like it's ready to pop off its mountings.


He took me across town. We drove out to Lexington Golf Club, and then through Twin Acres before doubling back into town and up Main Street. I noticed people were looking at us. I remembered that exact same sensation when Kim and I drove our 1966 Mustang convertible around town. Those were the days.

The Willeys four-cylinder engine provides incredible power, not speed.
 But the Jeep was somehow different. All I had to do was glance to my right and see the road passing under us. I loved the wind blowing through the two hairs left on my bald head. I loved that I could barely hear myself think against the straining of the engine. Plus, I felt every bump in the road.


I was having a blast. I thought we were nearly through with the ride when Perry headed us over to Northside before coming back on Winston road, and then we made an encore appearance down Main Street again. We might have been gone a half hour to cover what normally takes about 10 minutes.

Along the way, Perry told me he bought the Jeep about three years ago from Chip Ward. The vehicle was resting comfortably in the tree line near the lake there and had been idle among the foliage for about six years, but Perry made an offer and it was his.

He thinks it's an old Navy Jeep, because Navy Jeeps didn't have tailgates and this one is tailgate free. It's also painted kind of a hideous Forest Green (Perry thinks it even might have been purple at one time), but he's hoping to paint it Navy grey at some point and throw in some military serial numbers on the hood for authenticity. But first he has to recover from having the transmission refurbished ("Some of the gears were missing teeth") before he goes any further.

It may not even be military. If it truly is a CJ-3A, the CJ stands for "Civilian Jeep" (according to Wikipedia). But I think it's close enough.

Some of the gauges on the dash still work – on occasion. The speedometer worked a couple days ago, and Perry's still guessing how much gas is in the tank, which is located directly under the driver's seat. It holds 10 gallons, which I guess minimizes the risk of an explosive fire. There are no windshield wipers right now, and the steering wheel is incorrect to the vehicle. He's been caught in a sudden downpour more than once.

Mere trivialities.

The whole point of this thing, of course, is in taking some history to the road. Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces on D-Day and thereafter, said the Jeep was essential to winning World War II. And even though Perry's Jeep is Korean War vintage, you can appreciate the lineage.

As long as you don't get thrown out.

Sunday, July 8, 2018


The other day I went into our guest bedroom to search for a book I keep in the shelving there.

It was then my eye caught the bottom shelf of the bookcase: at least 100 record albums were sitting there, upright, out of sight, out of mind, forgotten, and yet, at the same time, a valuable vinyl diary of my youth.

I forgot about the book I was looking for; I started flipping through some memorable album covers. The Beatles were there, of course, from start to finish, as well as most of their solo work (to this day, I am a Beatles-phile. Not only do I have their complete catalogue on vinyl, but on cassettes and CDs as well. I am prepared).

It was my collection of records after the Beatles that tickled me, some of which I'd forgotten. Some I wished I'd never remembered. My taste in music virtually jumped the scales.

 There was the good stuff, of course. There was the fabulous farewell by The Band, "The Last Waltz." I listened to that one over and over back in the day. Then there was some Dave Mason, Simon and Garfunkel (four albums), James Taylor (2), Bruce Springsteen (3), Jackson Browne, Don McLean, Eagles (3), Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (2), Fleetwood Mac (4), Doobie Brothers (3), Carole King (2) and Carly Simon (2). (Carly's "No Secrets" album cover held no secrets. As did Herb Alpert's (5) "Whipped Cream and Other Delights" cover before that, which seemed somehow a coming of age for me. Hey, I was only 14 at the time.)

I kept flipping through the albums. For some reason, I bought Richard Harris' "A Tramp Shining," possibly for "MacArthur Park." Don't ask. I also found three Harpers Bizarre albums because I like tight harmony, but having said that, I don't own a single Beach Boys on vinyl. Go figure. God Only Knows.

Back in my college days in Pennsylvania, I detoured into progressive rock and jazz and I faithfully listened to a radio station out of Philadelphia, WMMR. Consequently, I have "The Use of Ashes" album by Pearls Before Swine, featuring a song called "Rocket Man," which has no connection at all to Elton John's (2) "Rocket Man."

I also dug Yes (4) and listened to Yessongs ad nasuem. Yours is No Disgrace, after all.

I also have two Weather Report albums ("Black Market" and "Heavy Weather", of which I had long forgotten. I also got into Chuck Mangione for a while, but he was never Herb Alpert. He never had a compelling album cover.

There were some familiar names whose albums I bought, but to this day, I don't know why. I have The Kinks "Muswell Hillbillies," but I don't recognize a single song title. I have John Klemmer's "Waterfalls," but here I shrug my shoulders. There's the Moody Blues, but I'm not sure "To Our Children's Children's Children" was a real biggie. Watching and Waiting, I guess.

Then there's Starland Vocal Band. Two words: "Afternoon Delight." But no Stones. Hey, I'm a Beatles guy. (I do have the Stones on CDs, so calm down).

There are some one-time purchases I do appreciate, like Melanie, Janis Ian, Pure Prairie League (for "Aime"), Boston and Genesis.

But what are Dr. Hook, Captain & Tenille and the disco Bee Gees doing there? Oh, yeah. After I got married, some of Kim's records merged into my collection. That's also where some of the beach music filters in. Beach music was a good addition.

Some artists I didn't realize I liked so much: I have four Cat Stevens albums, which must have come from my metaphysical period. There are three Billy Joels, three Steely Dans, three Rod Stewarts and two Associations.

The Sixties and early Seventies was not my country period. Again, I had to get married before I learned to appreciate Johnny Cash, Patty Loveless, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, et al. None of them appear on any records I own.

Looking back, it's great to have all these vinyl albums. It's like a scrapbook of my life, bringing back all these memories in the way that only music can do.

If only I had a turntable that still worked.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Put the damn paper out

After watching the news in real time on Thursday about the deadly shooting of five employees of The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, MD, a sad shudder shivered through my spine.

Dead reporters. In the United States of America. One of them, John McNamara, was a sportswriter.

A sportswriter.

I'm a sportswriter. That's what I've done for more than 40 years, for more than two-thirds of my life on this planet. I can't imagine going to work one day, wondering if I can still make deadline if the American Legion baseball game I'm covering goes into extra innings, only to end up murdered at my keyboard because some psychopath had a grudge against my workplace.

As a result of my job, I've gotten to know a lot of sportswriters over the years. Many are my friends. I didn't know John (who covered the University of Maryland), but maybe we were on press row together covering an ACC Tournament years ago. Maybe we sat side by side in a postgame interview, or bumped shoulders loading up on potato salad and barbecue during the pregame buffet. Who knows? I kind of hope maybe we did. I hope I crossed his path.

Dead reporters. It's part of a sorry refrain now: dead reporters, dead students, dead theater patrons, dead church-goers.

Because the gunman (armed with smoke grenades? How does that happen?) was carrying out his own warped sense of justice, it's unlikely the killings were politically motivated. But maybe he felt he had license to kill: After all, we're told over and over again, the news is fake. The press is the enemy of the people.

Listen, the news is not fake (unless we're talking about those tabloids at the checkout lane telling us about aliens from Mars impregnating Bigfoot). Most news gathering organizations utilize lawyers, ombudsmen and time-proven policy before – and sometimes after – publication to strive for accuracy. Does the media get it wrong? Sure, sometimes. Journalism is a human endeavor with all the  imperfection that implies.

If you believe the news is fake, it's probably because you don't agree with the view of the truth being offered. That's OK. But that doesn't mean the news is fake. It just means you don't agree with it. There's a difference.

A good way to tell if the news is fake is if it involves Martians and Bigfoot. I'm serious.

And the press is not the enemy of the people. It says so in the First Amendment of The Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of the press – which, by the way, was written by the people, for the people.

Which also explains why, even while mourning our slain brothers and sisters in journalism, "We're putting out a damn paper tomorrow." (Quote from Chris Cook, reporter for The Capital Gazette, on the day of the shootings).