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Monthly Archives: August 2012

My vacation was rudely interrupted.

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No deep thoughts tonight about pop culture or the world at large. So I’m gonna dive into my latest project, as teased in my previous post.

I am revisiting the only teenage running log (and only written diary of any sort) I ever kept, from the fall 1987 cross-country season, just to see what it tells me now.

Around this time 25 years ago, Freshman Kurt was shaking the rust off. And I do mean shaking the rust off:

Aug. 25, 1987.

My brother and I had missed the first day of practice, on Monday the 24th, because we were moving to a new house. So the 25th was our first day lacing ’em up again. (That’s what you do with sports shoes. You lace them up. No other cliche applies.)

Looking back, I am equal parts astonished and appalled to think that I didn’t run so much as once between, I’m guessing, mid-May and late August of 1987.

I’m pretty sure I had every intention of going out for cross-country in the fall of ’87, having enjoyed it the previous year. And yet I spent the entire summer parked on my arse, eating nachos and cheese dip.

I can only wonder what I was thinking.

Meanwhile, my knees are wincing at the thought that I came out of cold storage and plowed through three miles on the first day.

When you’re old and fat like I am now, one of the quickest ways to hurt yourself is to try to come back too fast.

It’s an easy trap to fall into — and I know, having fallen into it more than once. One day early in your comeback, it’s sunny and warm, and you get in the mood, and you stretch the mile-and-a-half you’re used to into three-and-a-half. And then a day or two later, your foot is throbbing or one of your knees is locked. End of comeback.

I guess I was young and foolish and remarkably flexible 25 years ago, because I didn’t get hurt.

Or maybe I mean I didn’t get injured … because the Cross-Country Diaries indicate there was definitely some hurtin’ involved.

The next day. PAIN!

Coda: OK, one pop-culture note for those who tune in for such things.

The Number One hit for the week ending Aug. 29, 1987, was one I remember hearing and liking at the time, as it was a rootsy guitar-based song that stood out in an era of synthesizers and big drums.

The video runs two minutes and fifty-one seconds; I’ve always liked the last thirty seconds the best.


I ran.

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I always wanted to keep a diary when I was a kid, but was always too paranoid that someone would come along and read it.

In retrospect, it is probably just as well that my precious thoughts and passing fancies were never written down to be revisited. If I had kept a diary in middle or high school, Adult Me might have put it to the torch out of sheer embarrassment.

(Or, more likely, it would have made its way out and gotten passed around among my friends some long-ago night when I was riding the drunkship. Journaling and booze don’t mix. I think I made the right choice.)

The closest I ever came was the fall of 1987 — 25 years ago — when I kept a running log during cross-country and the first part of winter track.

For the most part, my log focused on each day’s running workout, with little mention of anything else.

Even at that bare-bones level, it still brings back memories of the early days of high school, though.

And I’ve never met an element of my past I couldn’t exploit for cheap ironic online entertainment.

So, in honor of the 25th anniversary of my sole prolonged attempt at journaling, we at Neck Pickup are proud to present a recurring feature for the fall:

Yup, every so often I’ll dig something out of the log and write about it. There won’t be any deep explorations of my psyche — I wouldn’t want to inflict that on you, the reader. But there will be some memories, and the odd droll comment, and it might be more than the sum of its parts.

Just as an introduction, here’s the young man you’re going to be hearing from:

High school ID photo, fall 1987.

Age: 14.

Grade: Ninth.

Rocking my teenage world: The Beatles, the Stones, my high-school garage band, joyriding with my brother and his friends.

Not yet rocking my teenage world: Beer, girlfriend, driver’s license, summer job, live concerts.

Stay tuned for The Cross-Country Diaries, then. If I do it right, it might be a fun run.

Going nowhere on the streets with the Spanish names.

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News item: The Los Angeles Dodgers take advantage of a roster shuffle by the Boston Red Sox, acquiring big-name players Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford in a blockbuster trade.

This news surprised the baseball world, but was not tremendously shocking to classic rock fans, who already knew that Los Angelenos all come from somewhere.

The pouty snarl on Beej’s face at about 0:16 in is priceless. Rock n’ roll is a tough business, but he’s gonna put all those transplanted Topekans in their place, you betcha.

(He could take a lesson from his drummer, Liberty DeVitto, who is ten times the rock n’ roll animal BJ is without even trying. Check him out near the end, making fun of his boss’ pretty piano playing.)


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Lobkowitz may have stopped his annuity, but Beethoven still glowers down as sourly as ever from his perch in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

I suppose the joke here is that they hired some second-string deity to play the lyre. The only tune she knows from start to finish is “Muskrat Love” … but Ludwig Van is too deaf to hear her, so it’s all good.

It is probably criminal that a man my age knows almost none of Beethoven’s music.

That ain’t gonna be remedied at 11:30 on a school night, though.

Night flights.

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Just got back from four lovely days in San Francisco.

Today was a travel day, spent entirely in the content-free cocoon of planes and airports … a day full of beverages with too much corn syrup and packets with too few peanuts.

My last flight of the night left Detroit for Allentown at maybe 10:25 or so. And as the plane skirted the wide bible-black sweep of Lake Erie, I dallied with the illusion that the unseeable blackness below me was all water … that the strings of streetlights and occasional subdivision grids were built on wooden platforms or on occasional high-rising juts of land, as they might be in monsoon-prone countries or at the very terminus of the Mississippi delta.

For a couple minutes, I turned the people of suburban Detroit into survival fishermen — shrimp seiners in shallow-bottomed boats. It was a pleasant charade.

As the suburban street grids became more common, I began to wonder whether they would outlive civilization.

Will future generations dig up still-paved examples of 20th-century suburban planning? Will museums 500 years in the future display dioramas of the intersection of Noelle Drive and Amelia Road? If cave drawings can survive all those years, what contributions will our times end up making to the historical record?

And then, in the stretches where only occasional pinpricks of light shone through the darkness, I began to (falsely) imagine that each one was a porch light or a lamp in a bay window. Home to someone, in other words.

I usually take comfort, rather than depression, in the sight and thought of other people’s homes when I am traveling. (The sight of Christmas lights from interstate highways makes me feel the same way.)

The sight of a lonely light on a long road, or the blur of holiday lights in the distance, reminds me that the comforts of home are real. I may not be in my own bed yet, but I’ll get there, just like the people with their lights on.

Tomorrow other people will step into the cocoon, hassling over gate changes and checked bags. And it will be my turn to plant my feet on my own little piece of turf and look around and breathe deeply.

It’s been a long, long day.

Good night.


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As an amateur guitarist, I tend to make progress very slowly, like a gang of ants spiriting an entire roast pig away from a picnic.

Years ago, maybe even as a teenager, I wanted to learn the Keith Richards/Chuck Berry style of playing to the point where I could improvise an entire solo chorus with double-stops.

(A double-stop is two notes played at once. It sounds fuller and fatter and bluesier and cooler than one note, and is a signature part of the Chuck’n’Keef approach to soloing.)

Took me a lot of aimless noodling to get there. But as of a couple of years ago, I’ve learned some of the basic hand positions for the most common double-stops, and can now construct an appropriately ragged solo chorus from them. Mission accomplished.

I think I’ve found a new guitar goal, courtesy of a man who did not play no rock n’ roll:

I don’t care that Mississippi Fred McDowell doesn’t change chords. You don’t need to, when you can make the notes roll out of the guitar like that.

And if you look at about 2:10 or so, he makes it look so easy with his picking hand. All that sound appears to be coming entirely from his thumb and his forefinger.

(For that matter, his fretting hand isn’t doing that much either. He’s tuned to an open chord, so his thumb can get a nice ringing sound picking the open strings on the bottom, while his index finger plucks the melody on the top strings.)

I found a blog post that details Mississippi Fred’s favorite open tuning. I might just have to buy myself a thumbpick and see if I can’t teach the muscles of my right hand some new tricks. I’d love to be able to make that sound, or something like it.

The good news is, the level of coolness in a fingerpicked blues song is directly related to the age of the picker. So if it takes me 15 years to suss this out, I’ll be just entering my prime by then.

Encore Performances: Harmony slips through my hands.

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From my old blog, August 2010.

I gave her many a year, but it’s finally over between Harmony and I.

Sometime in the mid-’90s, I bought the Harmony H303A guitar amplifier pictured above from a music store in western New York.

I knew it was only big enough to use as a practice or recording amp … and in my heart of hearts, I knew I wasn’t going to be recording any guitar tracks anytime in the foreseeable future.

But it was cheap.
And it had that ’50s/’60s vibe going for it, which attracts guitar players like catnip, and was conspicuously missing in my gear collection.
And every once in a while when I cranked it up, it stopped sounding like the cardboard it was made out of and began to put out something vaguely resembling “vintage tube tone,” which is as difficult to define as hardcore pornography and just as hotly pursued.

Harmony was a casualty of my move to Pennsylvania in 2002.
I never turned to her any more.
The unkindest cut came when my sons discovered her in my closet during their youthful explorations and took out her trio of tubes.
I subsequently found one broken glass grenade on the floor of my closet; the other two remain AWOL.

I’m finally making a long-overdue decision that I have too much stuff in my house.
Some of it will be sold; some will go for free to the first good home; and some will clog whatever landfill my township ships its shit to.

In keeping with that spirit, tubeless Harmony earlier tonight became the first thing I’ve ever posted on Craiglist.
For $10.

I didn’t do any research; didn’t see what H303As are selling for on eBay; just picked a number out of the air.
I’ve already received four e-mails of interest.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I have massively underpriced it — that someone will stick new tubes in it and turn it around for $100.
But I couldn’t bring myself to charge more.

In part, that’s because I haven’t turned it on in eight years. I don’t know that some other part of it hasn’t decayed into unusability.
It was a little crackly back in the day, and I do suspect the eventual buyer will need to sink some money into it.
I’d hate to sell it for $50 and feel like I made someone a false promise.

More importantly, this satisfies my long-held, latent desire to play Santa Claus anonymously.
(Ask me sometime about the time I bought a wedding present at random for a couple I didn’t know.)

We’ve all heard stories about the guitar player who got his favorite studio amp for $20 at a garage sale; or the pro photographer whose favorite camera for personal, knocking-’round-the-city snapping is a $30 pawnshop job.
I may be on the verge of giving someone else a story like that.
And it feels good.
Maybe better in my soul than an extra $40 would feel in my wallet.

There’s an artistic element to this, too. There might well be some guitar tracks stored up in Harmony after all.
I know I’m not the person to bring them out; but if someone else can, it stands to reason they should have the chance.
A tool should be used or discarded.

It may be that the eventual buyer will fix Harmony up, keep her for 20 years and smile every time he looks in her direction.
And I’m hard put to argue that that’s not the best of all possible outcomes.