Odds and Ends, and Some Things You May Not Have Known

May 28, 2020   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Welcome, blog faithful, and here we are back on our normal Thursday schedule. It’s good to be here. First of all, I’m very pleased and completely honored that my “comeback blog” on Monday (posted after our site had been down for a few weeks) was received so well. It seemed to have touched a chord with a lot of people, and many of the comments or emails I received were beyond kind. Please know that I very sincerely appreciate everything from the “likes” on Facebook to the emotional things many people told me.

To that end, I got a nice email today from Hall of Fame pitcher and Twins color analyst Bert Blyleven, who read the blog. It said “We’re so happy that your pop’s jersey is HOME!!!” It was signed Bert and Gayle Blyleven. Does that mean a lot? Yeah, that means a lot.

Moving on, my challenge today was to come up with subject matter for a new blog, just a few days after the special Monday edition. In football they call this a “short week” when the teams play on Sunday and then again on Thursday night.

The first bit of news I can share had to do with our initial big storm of the season, late on Tuesday. I don’t remember what time it was, but at the same moment both of our phones went nuts with a loud screeching alert. The text said we had a “Tornado Warning” for our area and we should take cover immediately. So we scrambled.

I quickly moved some wooden outdoor furniture to a more protected spot while Barbara took down the umbrella on the grilling deck. All of that stuff could make for lethal missiles if some really bad stuff hit us. I also went out and moved the trash and recycling bins from the curb back into the garage, while the rain started to pound me as the sirens began to wail. Fortunately, Boofus and Buster hadn’t panicked yet so we were able to gather them up and Barbara took them to a lower level room where the litter is, while I monitored radar on my laptop and had local news on the TV. They weren’t safe in that room, but I didn’t want to move them into the utility room unless we absolutely had to. Lots of places for the boyz to hide in there where we wouldn’t be able to account for them or reach them, as it’s only partially finished. With foundation on three sides, though, it’s the closest thing we have to a safe room here. For a while it looked like the worst of the oncoming storm, where they had spotted rotation, had a dead bead on Woodbury, but when it was just about 10 miles away it broke up. The sirens went silent, the TV stations went back to regular programming, and Barbara and the boyz came back out. We missed another one. Very fortunate, indeed.

Earlier today, when thinking about this blog, I remembered an email I got from someone (it was a while ago and I really don’t remember who it was, but if it was you then you’ll know it stuck in my head) and that note said, “Next time you’re looking for material, how about talking about some things we somehow still don’t know about you?”

My initial reaction was “After the book and this blog, is there anything left you don’t know about me?”  I stewed on that a little bit this morning, and came up with a few things, but mostly I just came up with odds and ends that kind of form a thread and are possibly interesting. I hope. We’ve made a habit of writing blogs about nothing, over the years, so why stop now? And here we go…

When I was a little kid, there was one year when my sister Mary went off to school for the first time but I, being a year younger, still stayed at home with my mom. My last year of freedom, so to speak. One day, I was playing behind the couch in the living room, probably pretending I was exploring a cave or being launched into space atop a rocket, but who knows. I was just back there. I’m guessing I was four years old, or thereabouts, because I think we all started kindergarten at five.

I was back there minding my own business when there was a knock on the front door. Mom opened it, and I could hear it was a friend of her’s. I remember thinking, “Well, it’s going to be embarrassing to come crawling out of here now, so I’ll just wait a few minutes until that lady leaves.” That “few minutes” turned into what had to have been close to an hour, as they sat on the very couch I was behind and “visited” for quite a while. With each passing minute, I knew the embarrassment level was only going up and up. I had to stick it out. Finally, Mom’s friend left and I crawled out. “Were you back there the whole time?” my mother asked. I told her I was, but it wasn’t until later in life I began to wonder if she had ever even noticed I wasn’t around. I was the only other person at home with Mom! Sheesh. Lesson: Don’t go behind the couch, whatever you do!

Stratego! A battle of wits and patience. (Click on any image to enlarge)

I also developed a deep love for the board game Stratego as I grew up. My brother Rick and I played it all the time, and it was a phenomenal way of building brain power in terms of strategy, memory, and trickery. It’s a great game, and I still have a version of it stuffed in some closet here.

I think most people have played Stratego (according to Wikipedia it has sold over 25 million copies throughout the years) but if you haven’t, the short version of the rules are these: You and your opponent each control a full army, with each piece being a particular rank, and those ranks have different skills and abilities on the board, kind of like chess. You each have a flag piece as well, which cannot be moved once you place it. The object is to capture the other person’s flag, using your pieces judiciously and avoiding the pieces that are bombs. It’s REALLY fun. And it takes an enormous amount of concentration. I guess it really is like chess, in that regard, but with way more pieces and two lakes on the board you can’t cross. Also bombs. There are no bombs in chess.

Rick is eight years older than me, so when he was in high school I was just a kid. We still played all the time but I was completely unable to beat him for many years. I’m not sure how old we each were, but I think I was in college when I finally won a game. I did it by capitalizing on a strategy I’d just dreamt up. It was all about patience. It was the “rope-a-dope” of Stratego. I never really attacked, other then to send a few scout pieces up the board to feel him out (that’s really all they’re good for) and just let him come at me. I played defense. I’d hidden my flag well, and had it surrounded by bombs and other high-ranking soldiers. It took at least two hours, but I finally won. I’m pretty sure that’s the last time we played. Maybe I can talk Barbara into a battle tonight.

Still my favorite Bond film.

Speaking of brother Rick, he took me to see my first James Bond movie. It was “You Only Live Twice” starring Sean Connery (of course!) and since it was released in 1967 I’m assuming I was 11-years-old, at the time. I remember Rick telling me, “You think you’ve seen good action movies. You haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until you see this!”

It blew me away. It was nonstop action, in exotic places, with pretty girls and masterful weapons that were more like toys. I’d never seen anything like it, and it’s still my favorite Bond movie to this day. Connery was at his best, the story line was typical “good guys versus evil guys” and the fate of the world was at stake, but it was full of great plot twists and fabulous sets. The special effects weren’t much, it was 1967 after all, but that didn’t bother me. I loved it.

I’m a Connery guy through and through. The movies got more ridiculous through the Roger Moore era, although I typically watched them all anyway. I thought Pierce Brosnan did a heck of a job, Timothy Dalton was good, and now I think Daniel Craig has become the most “believable” Bond, with flaws and all. He’s great and the new Bond films are far more gritty and stressful than the old ones. But when Connery was at his devilish “secret agent” best, you could hardly beat it. That’s him flying “Little Nellie” in the poster artwork.

I loved the movie so much I somehow talked my mom into buying me the soundtrack, on a full LP album. It was all the music from the movie, and Nancy Sinatra sang the theme song, so it was way outside my normal music “box” but it reminded me of the magic of that film. I played it all the time. I think I had a plastic bottle of OO7 cologne at some point, as well.

And speaking of albums, this will get a little away from the “things you may not know about me” theme but it struck me as timely.

I rarely do those Facebook things where you list places you’ve been, or movies you like. Everyone is doing it a lot more these days, with quarantines and the virus, so I decided to join in on one of those deals. It was the one where you show 10 different album covers, one a day for 10 days. Not the best albums you ever heard, but the most influential. Albums that made a big impact on your musical tastes from that point forward.

I actually put a lot thought into it. If there were multiple albums by one band that all had an impact on me, I realized I should just post the first one of those, in terms of the order I originally heard them. Without that first one changing my tastes, I may never have heard the ones that followed. That went well, and it was fun. Lots of interesting reactions from friends near and far, including a lot of buddies from high school. I knew I had shared a lot of musical interest with a core group of guys from St. Louis U. High, but I did not realize how widespread it was among other classmates, who I’m now FB friends with. Lots of “That was my favorite too” from guys I knew well but didn’t hang out with.

These guys are still playing, and they regularly thank K-SHE in St. Louis for giving them their US break

It was just today that I realized I easily could’ve included an album entitled “Remember The Future” by a band called Nektar. They were a British band that actually formed when they all met up in Germany, and although they were pretty popular over there they hadn’t really broken in the US market until 1973, after the release of that album. Legendary St. Louis album-rock station KSHE-95 (ubiquitously known as “K-SHE”) got behind them. K-SHE really broke Nektar in the States, and the band actually lived in a St. Louis hotel for three months while they rehearsed for their first US tour. It’s a great album, and I listened to it endlessly back then. I would’ve been a junior in high school when it exploded on the scene around St. Louis.

Those were heady days for a music lover like me. K-SHE was known nationally as one of the most influential stations in the country, and those were the days when album-oriented stations could have the leeway to do pretty much whatever they wanted and play what they liked. Even the deejays had the right to play a lot of what they wanted, even full album sides, although the station always kept tabs on what people were asking to hear. If a band like Nektar got noticed, and the public approved, big things could happen. Although K-SHE is still on the air, and still popular, it’s like just about all other radio stations now; part of a corporate chain and pretty much tied to focus groups and consultants while the daily deejays don’t have much input, although I give them a lot of credit because they still make a point of playing those “K-SHE Classics” from back in the day, when you never knew what you were going to hear. It was a great time to be addicted to rock.

I also saw a thread on Facebook the other day, posted by my friend Linda Wilding (who is married to my friend and former Funny Car driver Norm Wilding). It was photo of the inside of a late 60s or early 70s record store, with endless rows of albums all standing up in bins, arranged alphabetically. The caption had to do with “Do you remember flipping albums at the record store?”

Of course I do. My reply to Linda was “going to the record store, whether at the mall or at the stand-alone mega store Peaches Records and Tapes, was the only shopping I ever wanted to do. I was in agony at a department store, but I could spend all day flipping through the bins of LPs looking at the covers and reading the notes on the back. It was heaven.”

I still miss Peaches Records and Tapes

Peaches was the core of that heaven. They were amazing stores, and we were lucky to have two of them in the St. Louis area. Neither one of them was close to where I lived, especially once I went to SIU-Edwardsville for college, but the magnetic pull of both Peaches stores drew me to them all the time. It was a welcoming and communal type of place, but huge. Great music was always playing, the wooden “peach crates” were something everyone seemed to have at home, right next to their stereo because they were just the right size to hold all your albums, and the browsing was unmatched.

When vinyl began to disappear and CDs took over the market, it all went away. Stores tried to adapt with ways to display the CDs, but that often entailed trapping them in bulky plastic frames to make them retrofit into the deep album bins. The fun was gone. Pretty soon, the record stores were gone.

I still have a dream to put a full old-school stereo together, and rebuild my vinyl collection. Vinyl stores are easier to find now than there were 25 years ago, I think, but most of my extensive collection was destroyed in the “great flood of 1993” when water was everywhere in the midwest and my garage flooded when a creek I never knew was there came up over its banks. I hadn’t been smart enough to put the cardboard boxes up off the floor. Lesson painfully learned.

I dream of an old tube amp, maybe a Marantz or a Kenwood, and big rich-sounding floor speakers. The turntable would be key, and I always had good luck with Pioneer manual turntables. Just one record at a time, and gently drop the needle onto the first groove. That “crackle” of the record coming out of the speakers was so inviting, and the sound of vinyl and big floor speakers was so lush and full. Digital may be “perfect” but it’s not really perfect. Albums are perfect. But that’s just the old guy who lived through it, talking…

I wish I could “drop the needle” right now but as much as I talk about it there always seems to be something more important or critical to spend money on. Like my dad’s 1946 Cardinals jersey. Some things have to come first.

That’s it for this week. When I started today, I wasn’t sure I had much to write about. Somehow we did it again.

And, of course, hitting that “Like” button at the top is always appreciated. It helps us spread the word, and I bet a lot of readers who’d love to reminisce about old albums, or Peaches, or even James Bond, would like to find this place.

See you next week!

Bob Wilber, at your service and wishing I was holding that magnetic velvet “album cleaner” pad over a record right now.



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