A Song That Burned In My Brain And My Pocket

“When I listen to my records they take me back to certain points in my life!”  (Daniel Stern as Shrevie in “Diner.”)

There are songs that time travel us to specific events in our past.  Some music recall I have can even  be traced to a specific date and that’s where the Pointer Sisters’ top 40 hit “Fire” ends up.  I first heard that song on January 1st, 1979.  This memory is vivid because it happened to be the first time I ever had naked women dancing in front of me in person.

Four buddies and I were on vacation together in Ft. Lauderdale Florida for Christmas break during our senior year in high school.  All of us were seventeen and spent a beer soaked New Year’s Eve in the Ocean Mist Lounge making out with countless women. Things got crazier once we went on the main street of Ft. Lauderdale and had encounters with countless party girls in an all night parade of passing cars.

The next evening was New Year’s night and we decided to move our carnal quests a step further by scanning the yellow pages for some live nude women action.  Around eight that night all five of us piled into a cab and were off to nearby Pompano Beach to visit the Monk Lounge strip club.  I don’t know about the other guys but this was my first time in a nudie bar.

My first visit to a strip club was to the now defunct Monk Lounge in Pompano Beach Florida.

The Monk Lounge was a fairly rundown joint with bullet holes in the front door that according to the doorman, were put there the night before by some unknown assailant.  The strippers inside appeared to be in their mid-thirties. On a 1 to 10 scale with 10 being the hottest, these ladies averaged to about a 6. The place was filled with young horn-dog idiots like us and some older gentlemen as well.  We took a couple of tables near the front of the stage, ordered beers and watched a slew of women strip down to their birthday suits and shake their money makers looking for dollar bills to be slid into their leg garters.

When offstage, the strippers would make stops at customers’ tables for more personal visits. They didn’t do lap dances but we were within inches of naked breasts, butts and bajingos.  This kind of up close dancing would garner a tip of a dollar or two and for guys like us with limited sexual experience, the money was well spent.  Some of the friendlier girls would give you a kiss to boot.  Each of us probably dropped forty or fifty dollars in tips that night.

Tipping the naked ladies was encouraged and appreciated.

So here’s where we get to the song “Fire.” As I noted, this was not the classiest of strip clubs. There was no live band or professional D.J. with a state of the art sound system to provide music for the women to strip to.  Instead, at the side of the stage there was a jukebox rigged to play songs without putting coins in it.  Each dancer would scan the selections and punch up a few buttons to play the three tunes they needed for their set.  The one song that every dancer favored was, you guessed it, “Fire” by the Pointer Sisters. I never heard the song before that night and the lyric I specifically remembered is when in the middle of it they sing “Romeo and Juliet, Samson and Delilah…”

My four pals and I stayed at the Monk Lounge for a couple of hours that night and we heard “Fire” played at least a dozen times.  There were other tunes the girls danced to but this song was the mainstay.  It’s easy to see why I have such an ingrained brain burn for “Fire”, it was played so often that it registered in my ears as I saw long legged nude women bumping and grinding to the melody.

Songs from the past can inspire varying memories and anytime I hear the Pointer Sisters’ version of “Fire”, it only takes me back to the very first time I saw live nude women dancing for me.  It was a rite of passage. And to this day, as the opening chords of that song are played anywhere or anytime, a sly smile comes to my face, and I can feel my wallet getting a few dollar bills lighter.

Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?

This is an excerpt from my memoir “Raised on the Radio.” While the book’s completion is on hiatus, this story will definitely be in it.  At the time of 9/11 I was working at WUSN FM as morning show producer.  When the attacks happened I’d been at US*99 for over 8 years.

September 11th 2001 added to what was already a strange year for me. In January of that year, Ramblin’ Ray Stevens got fired from the morning show in a surprisingly stupid  move by management. Big John Howell joined us on mornings and then a few months later Ramblin’ Ray rose from the ashes to be rehired do afternoons at US*99. We had crazy times at the radio ranch but things were about to get insane for the whole world.

I attended a family wedding on Sunday September 9th and had Monday September 10th off from work. The fall radio ratings period would start in a few days and we were discouraged from taking time off the show once the fall listener numbers started getting measured.  It was later learned those hijacking terrorists chose a Tuesday and not a Monday for their attack because they were aware of how many Americans took three day weekends during the summer months. These killers knew most people would be back to work and in their offices by Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, 9/11 we were having a regular show when Trish Biondo came into my studio about ten minutes before eight a.m. to tell me to tune my TV to the Today Show. I switched channels to see that first plane stuck in the side of the north tower of the World Trade Center.  I wasn’t even sure if it was an airliner or a private plane.  There’d been times when private planes crashed into office buildings or outdoor sports stadiums. Heck, the previous year WGN radio legend Bob Collins died when the plane he piloted had a mid-air collision with another small plane and crashed into the roof of a local hospital. Big John Howell told listeners about what was on TV but nobody knew what was happening. I stayed in my studio to screen phone calls and monitor my TV.

Less than twenty minutes later, while on the phone with a listener, I kept one eye on my TV screen and saw another plane hitting the World Trade Center’s south tower. I was frozen with shock! John Howell went on to announce what just happened and that we were under attack.  I wondered to myself if there was some computer hacking that took over the airliners’ controls and steered them into the towers.  Our phones were lit up, pulsing fast like my heart rate as I answered every call.  So many questions and updates from listeners kept coming in. The best words to describe those desperate minutes would be frantic, bizarre, terrifying and off the charts.

To the left you can see a hijacked airliner about to hit the south tower of the World Trade Center.  The world had gone nuts.

About half an hour after the south tower was hit came word that a jet crashed into the Pentagon building in D.C.  A caller told me this and I switched TV channels to get confirmation.  With the Pentagon attacked the first words that came to my mind were what Governor Connelly’s wife said when JFK’s motorcade was being fired upon in Dallas in 1963, “My God they’re going to kill us all!” I truly remember thinking this!

My rationale was if the Pentagon is our country’s base for military operations/defense and it’s under siege, who the hell makes calls on how our country defends us?  We were in a world of shit. I was never ever more scared in my life than when the Pentagon got crashed into.  Was this the end?  Was this OUR end?

Once the Pentagon had been hit by a hijacked plane, I was truly never more scared in my life.  Was this the end?  Was this our end?

Next, was a local news report that a threat had been phoned into Chicago’s Sears Tower and they were evacuating the entire building.  I picked up a hotline call from our GM Steve Ennen.  Steve, who heard about the Sears Tower evacuation, said if the Hancock received the same ‘get out’ order we were to switch our transmission to simulcast sister station WBBM AM, Newsradio 78, then get out of the building ASAP.  I relayed this information to Big John on the air and noted that since the Hancock was considered to be the most recognized building in the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if we got a similar threat.

After giving this update to John I walked out of the studio and stopped in my tracks as an announcement blared out of a hall speaker from the Hancock Security people. They were ordering everyone out of the building immediately.  I told Big John this news and quick as a flash Trish left the room, grabbed her purse and was out the door.  John and I were talking on the air about the Hancock evacuation and he wanted to stay. I said, “John, we HAVE to go!”  He grudgingly agreed, signed off then switched our broadcast transmission to Newsradio 780.

Hustling into the morning show office I scooped up my briefcase and called my mother. I told her I was O.K. and was on my way out of here. And I loved her.  Mom was puzzled. “What are you talking about?”  Turns out she was in her garden tending to flowers and tomatoes and just got back in the house when I called.   She knew nothing about the planes and the unfolding chaos.  My mom told me to be careful getting out of the city and said she loved me too. In just about an hour’s time we went from a plane has struck one of the World Trade Center buildings to evacuating our building because the world went nuts.

Before leaving our 13th floor offices, I needed a quick bathroom break.  When I got to the men’s room, the paralyzing fear I had over the Pentagon getting hit suddenly lifted.  I thought, “If this is my last day on earth, I’m O.K. with it. I had a good life and if the worst happened, I’m ready for what’s next.”  Washing my hands I smiled thinking if the Hancock got slammed by a jet right at this very minute, I could die like Elvis did, in the bathroom.

John and I met up at the elevators and headed down to the Hancock lobby.  The doors opened and I pivoted toward the parking garage elevators so I could get my car.  John walked toward the street exit and saw I wasn’t with him.  He turned around to me, called out and asked if I was going to stay downtown and wait out the building’s evacuation.  I told John this might be the end of everything and I was going to be with those I love.  With that, my elevator door opened and I was on my way to fetch my car to get the hell out of Dodge.  It was damn spooky to see a practically abandoned parking garage and my car was one of the last around.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks resulted in some problems in Chicago including bomb threats.  One such threat was to the John Hancock Building and we were kicked off the air as the entire place was evacuated. 

Minutes later while driving across Michigan Avenue en route to the hopefully safe suburbs, I saw hundreds of people on the sidewalks on their cell-phones.  Nobody knew what to say or what to make of anything.  A couple months later Alan Jackson would come up with the best words to describe 9/11 with the song “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” Alan nailed the tone and mood all of us had that day. That song covered it all.

Once the Hancock evacuation was lifted, John Howell did make it back on the US*99 airwaves and did a stellar job updating listeners on the insanity of the terrorist attacks.  He took calls and provided a smart, calm and measured voice of sanity during an insane day.  I admired what John did but at the same time was fine with getting the hell out of the city and taking everything in from the TV reports at home.

The day after the planes hit, concrete barricades surrounded the Hancock and every car coming into the parking garage needed to be searched at street level. I had to pop my trunk for inspection and there were long poles with mirrors on them for security to check for bombs under every vehicle about to drive up the ramps. This went on for a couple of weeks.  Within a month, all Hancock workers had picture ID badges that were to be worn at all times and everyone was on high alert. “Vigilant” was the new watchword.

Programming wise, matters turned to the fall-out of 9/11, the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and all things military.  Over the next three months, I did some of my best producing around this tragedy arranging interviews with politicians like then Congressman Mark Kirk, who was still in the Naval Reserve and tracking down journalist and terrorism expert Judith Miller. She gave us insight to Osama Bin Laden and much more. In recent times Ms. Miller had to come clean about being a White House shill who made a case for going to war in Iraq in 2003.  She wrote a book detailing how she got things all wrong and fell for George W Bush’s bullshit reasons for that war.  I was all for the U.S. military invading Afghanistan to chase down Bin Laden but was one of those few voices against the Iraq war. I supported Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks in 2003 when she said she backed our soldiers but not President Bush’s war in Iraq.  The Chicks caught unholy hell for Natalie telling a concert crowd they were embarrassed to be from the same state as George W. Bush.  In the end, the Dixie Chicks, I and some others with common sense were proven right.

Another ‘get’ was us interviewing longtime Chicago news anchor turned “60 minutes 2” reporter Carol Marin.  Carol shared a harrowing tale of chasing down the World Trade Center attack story on 9/11 and nearly being engulfed by a giant fireball as one of the towers collapsed.  Ms. Marin’s life was saved by a responding fire fighter who rushed her to take cover in a nearby store entrance.  With the country in shock and despair over 9/11, fun and wacky radio bits took a long break until well into the New Year.

We all knew 9/11 would change hundreds of millions of lives forever.  However the depth and scope of those changes was way beyond what anyone could have anticipated at the time.  To this day, it’s pretty scary to think nineteen hi-jacking assholes could have such an effect on the world.  Alan Jackson’s song was a profound moment to come out of 9/11 and while the world turns in a different way these days, I’m just relieved and happy we’re still here to live in it.

 

R.I.P. Burt Reynolds

“…Even Burt Reynolds in his black Trans Am, all gonna meet down at the Cadillac Ranch.”  (Bruce Springsteen)

I was sorry to hear about the passing of Burt Reynolds at age 82 after suffering a heart attack. The guy was a major movie star for many years and to those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s,  Mr. Reynolds represented what a real man was all about.  Burt was athletic but not roided up, tough, smart, cocky and of course he usually got the girl.

I was eleven years old when my father took me to see “Deliverance” which was a pretty heady film for a young kid to see. My folks always helped me keep what I saw in those movies in the proper perspective.

Back then “Deliverance” was an edge of the seat film and it still holds up today as a timeless thriller. Watching it to this day I still feel the same rush of those runs through the river rapids and the battle against those sadistic mountain men.  My dad used to say that movie was one of the best and worst he ever saw; Best for its intensity and worst because of the “Squeal like a pig” sodomy scene with Ned Beatty.

Even a more subtle scene like when Burt’s character Lewis is negotiating a price for locals to transport cars to their landing spot resonates. The local guy says he wants fifty bucks and Burt says “Fifty my ass”, then repeats it when the local dares him to say those words again.

Burt Reynolds in his most iconic role in ‘Deliverance.’ “Fifty my ass…I said fifty my ass!”

Reynolds got to relive his real life college football glory days with his portrayal of disgraced NFL Quarterback turned prison gridiron star Paul Crewe in “The Longest Yard.” I remember being stunned at how mean Eddie Albert (Oliver Douglas from “Green Acres” for God’s sake!) could be as the warden and how a movie could have such great action plus be very comical.

From “The Longest Yard”, Burt as disgraced NFL QB turned prison yard star Paul Crewe.

Yes, the action adventure actor Burt Reynolds was damn funny. From the nude centerfold he posed for in Cosmopolitan magazine to his many appearances as a guest and guest host on the Tonight Show, Reynolds was always willing to laugh at himself. Not taking his own persona seriously made him even more endearing to his male and female fans.

Reynolds blasting whipped cream down Johnny Carson’s pants.

A couple years ago I enjoyed his autobiography “But Enough About Me.” I mean just that title alone shows a world famous icon looking back at his life with bemusement and humor. Reynolds told some interesting stories in that book and owned up to his failings as much as his successes.

The Golden Globe won and the Oscar nomination Burt Reynolds got for “Boogie Nights” was well deserved. His showdown with porn making rival Floyd Gondolli who tries to convince Burt’s Jack Horner character to move from film to video is a classic. I wish we had seen Reynolds in more features during his latter years.

Playing 70’s porn movie director Jack Horner in “Boogie Nights” earned Reynolds a Golden Globe trophy and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. 

A few years back Burt Reynolds did some meet and greet appearances at a local theater that was screening “Deliverance.” I went for the film but spent a few minutes watching Burt sign autographs and do photos with fans for a fee.  Standing maybe twenty feet from the star I saw what a physical toll a life of doing one’s own stunts and hard and fast living did on a body.  Burt Reynolds was now frail and barely there.

Burt Reynolds, just a couple years ago.  Sadly, a fading star.

So now Burt Reynolds goes the way of other macho movie icons like Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin, James Coburn and Robert Mitchum.  Clint Eastwood doesn’t act anymore. Harrison Ford is a gray lion who we worry will crash his self-piloted plane while leaving the left blinker blinking. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are way past their prime. It seems today’s action actors are nothing more than flexed up goons with ten hour a day work-out infused muscles, oiled abs and tattoos. (Yeah, Dwayne the Rock Johnson and John Cena, I’m talking about you.)  The era of the “real man” actor with true character and charisma is over.

Thanks Burt Reynolds for all the entertaining you did for us in film, TV and real life. You were one of the last of the ‘real man’ movie star breed. And on your trip to the great beyond, may your drive in that Black Trans Am or the canoe ride on the river be a smooth one.  Just beware of Smokey the Trooper. And also scary toothless mountain men.

 

 

The Sun Sets On The East End (Pool, That Is)

 

(My summer retreat, East End Pool in Elmhurst)

Another summer of swimming at the Elmhurst Park District pools has come to a close. For the past two seasons I’ve enjoyed the late morning adult swim at East End Pool daily. This year, I got to better know more of the ‘regulars’ and became one of them myself. Despite variances in our ages, there’s a special camaraderie that bonds all of us together as we enjoy the refreshing water and warmth of the summer sun.

I’ve been inspired by Barb, a retired nurse who eagerly took time out of her swimming to assist a fellow swimmer in helping her elderly mother walk in the shallow end which has done wonders for that mother’s physical health.   Then there’s Miriam, who in her mid-nineties still drives to the pool and is open to discuss anything which includes interesting stories from her life.  Many of us talked about our goings on, music, sports and where to find good places to eat. These folks are my summer family and they’re a  pleasure to swim and socialize with.

There were also semi-regulars who came to East End. One woman tried to fix me up with a girlfriend of hers who wasn’t at the pool but I was shown photos on a phone.  A kind gesture but not having the best of luck on blind date fix-ups, I took a pass.  There was a young woman or two who swam at the pool a couple of times that I was interested in. However, I didn’t want to even attempt to turn my chlorine oasis into some sort of a half-assed pick-up joint.   The pool has become kind of sacred ground and water to me.

(The view from my usual deck chair)

A special thanks to the East End Pool staff for keeping the facility clean and safely monitored. Many out of town and first time visitors to East End have told me what a fantastic pool we have and how they envy us.  No argument there. Years from now when I retire, I want to become a lifeguard there.  (Instead of “Baywatch” they can call me “Gray-watch.”)

So we now bid a fond but reluctant farewell to the summer season at East End.   The beach towels, flip flops and pool I.D passes are packed away and all of our tans will start to fade.  The summer fun is over.  Those of us who like me, teach, are back in the classroom for a new school year and the other swimmers will return to different routines.  I want to wish my fellow ‘regulars’ and all pool attendees the best of health during the coming fall and winter months. We won’t see each other for awhile but take heart, a new swim season is only eight months away. We’ll see you back in the water for the summer of 2019.

The beach towels, flip flops and pool I.D. passes are packed away for the year.