The River's Badge

Saturday, December 8, 2018

And Now For Something Different

I have no burning topics tonight, so while I'm listening to my favorite Sirius channels, I thought I would try something different. From among my favorite channels, I will choose a song that is currently streaming and offer my critique. The only rule is that it has to be a song I've heard before. I'm not in the mood to write a review of an obscure Bobby Rydell track.

My favorite channels essentially consist of all the decades from the fifties through the eighties, plus Prime Country, Willie's Roadhouse, The Bakersfield Beat, The Garth Channel (which rarely plays anything good), The Beatles Channel, and a couple of odd ones ~ Red, White and Booze and (currently) Country Christmas, which has been a vast disappointment.

First up:

Carrying Your Love With Me ~ George Strait (Prime Country)

This was released as a single from the album of the same name. George Strait's seventeenth album does not rank among his best. It contains approximately three good songs and seven forgettable ones. What stands out on this track is its chorus's sing-along-ness. The casual radio listener can pretend she actually knows this song just by chiming in on the chorus. As a piece of songwriting, it comes across as an idea that didn't know where it wanted to go. I imagine the writer came up with that first line ("All I've got's this beat-up leather bag") and then added some filler lines that don't exactly ring and don't bother to rhyme. The chord progression is run-of-the-mill. George apparently liked what he heard, however, and found a way to spiff it up with a nice steel guitar riff. I imagine he also liked the images the song conveys. The second verse does improve considerably. I would have advised the writer to polish Verse One before pitching the song.

Everything Is Beautiful ~ Ray Stevens (70's on 7)

This song was a huge hit in 1970. It's one of the few serious songs, unfortunately, that Ray ever recorded. Ray apparently found his niche doing novelty songs and was very successful with them, but they overshadowed his lovely voice and songwriting. This is a song of its time. The sixties had barely slipped away and people were of the notion that peace, love, and flower power would magically prevail. Nevertheless, Ray is a masterful songwriter ~ the song flows perfectly. Like a lot of songs from around that time, this one begins with the chorus, which is impactful. The verses that follow carry more weight once the primary theme has been established. If you want to hear a beautiful voice, search out Ray's "Misty" album (or CD, I guess). Ray's singing has been sorely underestimated over the years, mostly due to his emphasis on comedy. He should have had more confidence in the beauty of his voice.

Hungry Like The Wolf ~ Duran Duran (80's on 8)

I was a major MTV watcher in the eighties, but for unknown reasons, this track did not resonate with me at the time. It was only later, with the volume twirled up on my car radio, that I came to love this song. I don't know much about Duran Duran. I know they had other hits, but this is what they will be remembered for. Most of the lyrics are unintelligible to me, but I do know they rhyme. It actually doesn't matter what the words are ~ this is a "feel" song, as most good songs are. The most memorable lyrics are (and you know it), "Doo doo do dit, do doo dit, do doo dit, doo do dit, doo do".

I also like the "ow-www" that injects itself into the chorus, even though I did read "Small Sacrifices" and realize its significance in the story, but I choose to ignore that and just rock out to the song.

Please Please Me ~ The Beatles (60's on 6)

Please Please Me was released as a single in 1963, about eight months before I ever knew about this band that would change my musical life forever. The song is quite elementary, but delivery, boys, delivery. John wrote the song as a paean to Roy Orbison, which, regrettably fails in its endeavor. I've even written a song more reminiscent of Roy Orbison than this one, but perhaps it's all in the ears of the beholder.

Please Please Me was featured on the Beatles' debut album, which must have been recorded in a great hurry, because if you listen closely, Paul and John are singing completely different lyrics from one another in one of the verses. I don't know why Sir George Martin let that slip by, but maybe he figured this was a lose-lose proposition, so why bother?

The element that makes the song stand out, other than the fact that no one had ever heard anything like this group ever, ever; is John's low register "come on".

Other high points include Paul's bass and Ringo's drumming. The low point is John's harmonica. I would have vetoed that if I were George Martin, but again...The bridge is excellent ~ the staccato lyrics and the renowned falsetto "ooh's" of Harrison and McCartney. As a song that established The Beatles, it passes muster.

I'm Still Standing ~ Elton John (80's on 8)

I'm hard-pressed to find an Elton John song that I don't like. This song was ostensibly written by Elton alone, unlike every other song of his for which Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics. As much as I've loved Elton John over the decades, there was always a disconnect between the lyrics and the music; or should I say, the lyrics never made any sense. I shouldn't say "never" because sometimes they made sense, but mostly they didn't. It really didn't matter, though, because Elton is another "feel" artist. He could sing practically any nonsense words and listeners would swoon. His voice is warm honey. 

I Got You Babe ~ Sonny and Cher (60's on 6)

Sonny Bono was not the world's best songwriter, but he gets points for tenacity. Cherilyn Sarkisian was sixteen years old and, as the world turned in the sixties, living with Sonny, who was miles older than she. Sonny was a hanger-on at Phil Spector's studio and thus convinced the wall of sound producer to record the duo in '65.

It's really only thanks to Spector (the murderer) and the Wrecking Crew that this track shot to Number One. Cher (as she was now known) did have something; a spark of serendipity. The song itself was a rip-off of Dylan. Bono sang his part as if he was Dylan. Steal from the best, they say. There is no denying that the song is memorable, even if only due to kitsch. 

Dion and The Belmonts ~ Lovers Who Wander (50's on 5)

The fifties are sorely underestimated. Doo-wop is a thing that the world needs more of. Doo-wop is an art. It requires the perfect mix of background guttural noises and a lead singer whose voice can soar. Doo-wop is all about sound. Lyrics actually don't matter. Dion was a doo-wop king. He was adept at doing the fills. It wasn't so much what was said ~ it could have been anything, but mostly it was about romance gone bad. Doo-wop was, like Elton John, all about the "feel". Don't, whatever you do, discount the fifties.

You Didn't Have To Be So Nice ~ Lovin' Spoonful (Oldies Party)

The first time I heard the Lovin' Spoonful was in 1965. "Daydream" fueled my downtown meanders with Cathy, my fifth-grade best friend. I've opined about how "Do You Believe In Magic" is the most glorious rock song ever, thanks to (the late) Zal Yankovsky and his utter musical joy. Zal was a man who consecrated music ~ the lone man I've found whose pure delight makes my heart soar. That doesn't happen. I didn't know it at age eleven, but I do now.

Hours have passed since I began this experiment. I'm rather sleepy now, but I think it was a success.

I'm keen to do it again. As the kids say, it was kinda groovy.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Only Time I "Saw" A President

I've always been a political geek. You could say that politics is my sports. I follow my squad's standings; I cheer for my "home" team. I peruse the box scores. I never actually got to see a president outside the square box of my TV screen, except for one time.

My big brother had the opportunity to see a president up close, in 1963. I was eight and my brother was seventeen with a driver's license. President Kennedy was going to make an appearance at the Grand Forks Armory and my brother bragged to me that he was going to journey across the river to see him. As I remember it, it was only braggadocio. He never did go. In my brother's defense, it's a pain to try to get up close to a president, even in the innocent age of the early sixties. You gotta fight the crowds. You've got to deal with all that security (apparently not enough back then, alas). Then there's the inevitable traffic jam afterward.

One of the nice things about living in a small town is that politicians single them out for visits.

On April 24, 1989 (I looked it up), President George H.W. Bush was arriving in my town to plant a twelve-foot elm tree on the Capitol grounds, in honor of the state's centennial. It does seem like a president would have more pressing matters than turning over a couple shovels-full of dirt, but politicians have to do lots of corny stuff.

I was working second shift at the hospital and, dang it, I was scheduled to work that Monday. I knew the presidential limo would travel up Airport Road on its way to the State Capitol, and that was only five blocks from my house.

I called in sick.

It was shortly after lunch time and my kids were in school. I had a couple of hours free. I hiked the five blocks and situated myself in a prime spot along the Expressway. Behind me was the local bank building ~ an ugly building, molded like a brown sand pail castle. Aside from that sky-obscuring monstrosity, the sky was clear and blue. About forty other people had happened upon the same idea as me, but the street was long, so my only company was a scattered couple or the guy behind me, over-dressed for the occasion in a suit and dark glasses. It was a bit disconcerting to glance back, unable to tell if the man behind the glasses was staring back, but I imagine I didn't look like much of a threat.

Before long, a long black limousine sauntered up the street. I think little American flags flapped from the front and back fenders. Clearly, President George Bush was ensconced inside. He had some kind of microphone at his disposal, because, clear as the sky, "Hi, how'ya doin'" and "Good to see 'ya" boomed out into the crisp air. I didn't actually "see" him ~ the windows were tinted grey-black, but I know he was there. I waved my hand like a simpleton and most likely applauded and whooped. I don't know what all transpired on the Capitol grounds, but I preferred my vantage point over a clutch of over-eager zealots. I just wanted to see the president.

Sadly, the twelve-foot elm did not survive the winter. But that's politics, isn't it?

I don't know how I missed the fact that George H.W. Bush was a country music fan. I always viewed him (erroneously) as rather a patrician, but had I known he was down-home like me, his measure would have increased exponentially.

I truthfully didn't know much of anything about President Bush, except that he was my president. He wasn't Ronald Reagan, but he was the next best thing.

But George liked the Oak Ridge Boys!

President George H.W. Bush was a helluva man.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

50 Years of Country Albums ~ 1968

I was thirteen in 1968, so you do the math. I was at that desperately awkward stage ~ I'd somehow managed to slither through seventh grade with only a moderate amount of embarrassment, but it was a struggle. Thirteen-year-olds are like alien beings who must learn how to simulate the movements of a human without an instruction manual. It's a wonder most of us survive past our first decade of life.

I bought multiple tubes of Maybelline concealer in an attempt to mask my zits. To complete my look, I slathered green eye shadow on my lids and liberally applied Cover Girl ivory-tone liquid makeup not only to my face, but my neck as well, so I had perpetual grease stains on the collars of all my polyester dresses. I thought I looked neat.

I pulled on pantyhose each morning and a pair of plastic kitten-heel pumps. I hiked up my half-slip to ensure it didn't peek below my thigh-high skirt. My hair was a disaster. I hadn't yet grown it out and thus was yet to endure the nightly torture of brush rollers with plastic pins jabbed into my scalp. I didn't know how to style hair, so I essentially let my mop do whatever it deigned to do. I did have long bangs that unfortunately obscured my carefully-applied lime eye shadow, but had the fortuitous benefit of camouflaging my forehead pimples.

I grabbed my geography and math textbooks and my spiral notebooks and Bic pen and padded out to await the bus. I was never cool and I painfully knew it. All I could pray for was to be was unnoticed. I think I actually prayed for that.

My only savior was music.

Musically, I was still torn between the pop songs played on KFYR AM and the chosen genre of my new best friend, Alice. Alice was unapologetically a country fan and didn't give a damn who knew it. Unlike me. I did my best to cloak my country proclivities by pressing my transistor up against the bus window and flooding the column of cocoa bench seats with Judy In Disguise. I didn't talk to anyone on the bus and certainly no one talked to me, but John Fred and the Playboys conveyed the desired message.

I had dipped my toe into albums in '67 and by 1968 had garnered quite the collection ~ if twenty is a collection. Granted, I had no means of income other than birthday money, and albums cost a whole three dollars and forty-nine cents. But I did my best.

Historically, few of the 1968 albums I owned have made any "best" lists, but you know, it was country. Country albums weren't exactly concept-driven. I feel a need to explain why none of Merle Haggard's '68 LP's made a home in my row of cardboard treasures. I already owned a tri-fold "Best of Merle Haggard" disc that contained all one could wish for, plus I didn't wait for new albums to be released ~ I needed those '45 singles immediately. So if I had a couple of dollars for an album, I wasn't going to waste it on something for which I already owned the prime track.

Critics (and you know how smart they are) will say that "Live At Folsom Prison" by Johnny Cash is one of the very best country albums of all time. Well, I never was a Cash fan. I found his music simplistic and monotonous. Rolling Stone Magazine loves the Johnny Cash mystique; the hell with the actual music. If I never hear Folsom Prison Blues again, my life will be a success.

Here's what I did buy:

How could one go wrong? "Best Of's" were a poor girl's dream. I knew all the songs were good, and as a bonus, the album included "Buckaroo", which was the only song I ever learned how to pick on a guitar.

Okay, this is performed by Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, because I can't find a decent video of Don Rich:

Like almost all country albums of that era, this album was filled to the brim with covers. So, I'm just going to go with the big daddy of songs:

This was the second duet album by Porter and Dolly, but not their best. "Porter Wayne and Dolly Rebecca" far outshines it. There was a fascination with this new girl singer in '68 ~ we hadn't seen or heard anyone like her before.

There was not one original song on this album! Not even one hit single. I don't know what the people at RCA records were thinking, but if you're going to release an LP, you might want to have one original song on it. With that in mind, I'm just going to cheat and show a video of one of Pride's actual hits:

I don't think I actually owned this album, but Alice did and we played it at her house over and over. Again, we didn't know what to make of this brash young blonde, but we knew she had something goin' on.

Again, "greatest hits" ~ how can one go wrong? I was always equivocal about Loretta Lynn. She'd been around since I was a tyke and saw her perform at Panther Hall in Fort Worth, Texas. I truthfully still haven't made my mind up about Loretta. I wouldn't go out of my way to play any of her tracks, but she paved the way for other, better female country singers, so...

That about sums up my album purchases from 1968. Not really a "classic" among them, but nobody knows at the time or even gives a damn what will endure. 

I do know, however, that this will:

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody ~ My Review

If you plan to see a movie, don't read any reviews. Bohemian Rhapsody was almost universally ravaged by the critics, and honestly, because of that, I was not anxious to see it. My stepson recommended it, though, so we went. From the opening scene, I was transfixed. I almost forgot about my popcorn...

A word about critics. My husband and I are not avid moviegoers; we're more the "lie in bed and watch Netflix" types. We tend to see more movies in the fall, when the superhero flicks have been usurped by more serious releases. We caught "First Man" a few weeks ago because it had gotten good reviews (unplanted flag notwithstanding). If you are unaware, "First Man" is about the Apollo moon landing, which one would assume was a glorious achievement. (I was around then, but as a teenager, it wasn't exactly the most exciting moment of my life. My entire family, however, had gathered in front of our console television to watch the grainy pictures of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon's surface, so in deference to my dad, I popped into the living room for a few moments.) When we left the theater after seeing the movie, I felt depressed. The film was, inexplicably, a downer. Even when Neil's wife visited him on the other side of the isolation chamber after he'd returned to earth, she practically chastised him. The couple, if the screenplay is to be believed, had some serious marital issues. Yet most critics gave the film an A+.

My point is, movie critics reek. Yet I fall for it every single time. Before the movie today, we saw a preview for a Steve Carell film in which his character plays with dolls and cries a lot. I bet the critics will laud this one as guaranteed Oscar gold. I turned to my husband and whispered "total flop". This one looks even worse than the last Carell preview we saw only a couple of weeks ago ~ the one where he spends a lot of time praying for his drug-addicted son. Don't get me wrong; I'm not denigrating people with addictions. Lord knows my family is rife with them. But that's not what I go to the multiplex to watch.

So, let me tell you about Bohemian Rhapsody. Rami Malek commands the screen from Scene One. The prosthetic teeth are a bit distracting, but one quickly forgets about them. I had no idea Malek was a brilliant actor. I watched a season and a half of Mr. Robot and pretty much hated it. Rami was clearly wasting his talents.

His portrayal of Freddie Mercury's early career was reminiscent of the swagger of Mick Jagger. Mercury was nothing if not supremely confident. If the screenplay is true (and Brian May was an executive producer, so I'm pretty confident in its accuracy), Freddie was the band member who pushed Queen to soar. He was fearless. He skirted the precipice of danger to create sounds no one had ever dared to conceive. Yet the movie made clear that Queen wasn't solely Mercury. I liked that. Brian May's guitar solo on the Bohemian Rhapsody track is majestic. Freddie clearly understood and respected each band member's unique talents, and knew that Queen was a band...until it wasn't.

Freddie got snookered into believing he could reach higher heights by striking out on his own. A duplicitous hanger-on (played by that nice chauffeur from Downton Abbey) almost destroyed Mercury's life.

The critics' primary condemnation of the film is that Mercury's private life was downplayed. I dissent. We all know Freddie Mercury was gay. Apparently in the critics' eyes, his sexual preference was more important than his creativity and his humanity. Please stop with the virtue signaling.

The fact that Freddie was diagnosed with AIDS is not swept under the rug in the movie. Tears stung my cheeks in the scene where he informed his band mates he had the disease.  

That makes the closing sequence all the more poignant. Queen performs at Live Aid and Freddie knows this is his last...and he kills it.

Rotten Tomatoes:



Friday, November 23, 2018

Finding Something I Was Good At ~ 1990/1991

I always liked getting in on the ground floor. When LaBelle's Department Store opened, all of us were new. It tends to even the playing field. Cliques have not yet formed; there's no, "Jenny never did it that way". Because there was no Jenny. US Healthcare was brand-spankin' new, at least in my city.

I knew nothing about health insurance, but I did possess a brain. I wasn't concerned about ranking at the bottom of the clump of thirty new employees. I didn't have to be the best, but I was not about to be the worst. If there existed a health insurance company in my town before US Healthcare, I plead ignorance. There may have been a two-room alcove somewhere above a furniture store that sold "health and life" to ranchers who couldn't legitimately form a group and therefore paid five thousand dollars a month for major medical. I therefore didn't know from whence the other twenty-nine girls were plucked ~ maybe they had a "semblance" of medical knowledge, like me.

Our new digs were a rented floor on the second story of a bank. We were granted parking passes, as long as we utilized the parking "arcade", which was a queasy sphere of lightheadedness I managed to maneuver each morning without passing out. In the office we were seated in sequential rows of five, in front of green-screened CRT's with impatiently-blinking cursors. Our trainers had been shipped in from Philadelphia and thus two wildly divergent cultures collided. East-coasters did not suffer fools or even semi-fools. Every raised hand was met with an attempt at a civil response, but disdain dripped like cheese steak from their lips. The travelers did not enjoy their sojourn to the hinterlands, as much as the idea had seemed like a fun lark when it was first presented to them. We were "rustic". Our local restaurants especially offended them. Amongst themselves, they pondered whether we had indoor bathroom facilities.

It had been determined that we would learn how to process eye exams. How bad could we fuck those up? If we managed to master that "skill", we might eventually advance to office visits. With three trainers and thirty trainees, one would have to hold her hand in the air for ten minutes before someone wended their way to the table, only to answer, "It's fine". Oh, okay. There goes my production, I guess.

Essentially, what we were learning was how to navigate US Healthcare's operating system. It makes sense in retrospect. But still, the scorn oozed.

On morning break, we all rode the elevator downstairs and streamed out to the concrete flower planters along Third Street. I gravitated to fellow smokers and found myself in a clutch of two much younger gals, Sherry and Marla. They may have told me where they'd worked before, but I have no recollection. After a couple of weeks, Sherry informed me one morning on break that I had only secured the position because someone dropped out. She didn't say it maliciously, but it still stung. At least I now understood why USHC had waited so long to call me. I don't know how Sherry knew and I didn't inquire. It might not have been true, but I think it was. Sherry was a nice person and she had no reason to jerk me around. Now that I knew I was an afterthought, I became more determined than ever to show 'em.

 Our local supervisors had been pre-selected ~ Kim, Barb, and Connie. They didn't do much during training; essentially hovered about trying to appear knowledgeable. When they ventured an answer to someone's raised hand, they were tentative, glancing up at the Philadelphia experts for validation. The rest of the day they huddled in a tiny back office and did...planning or something. There was also a manager; Marian, I believe her name was. She didn't stay long; I have no idea why. Maybe working with Connie was just too keen a punishment.

As the days dribbled on, I pondered who my supervisor would be. I liked Kim. He was an affable sort. Barb seemed a bit uptight, but harmless. Connie was a red flag. She didn't appear "real"; a person who went through the motions like she thought a normal human would, but couldn't quite pull it off convincingly.

Toward the end of our training, it was announced that three assistant supervisor positions were available. I applied. What the heck? Most everybody else did; I didn't want to seem unambitious. I didn't get it, of course. I didn't think I would. Girls named Carlene and (another) Shelly and somebody else who apparently was not memorable because I can't remember her, were granted the promotions. At least no one in my little three-person clique got it, so we could go on smoking and making small talk and anticipating our move to the new building on the north side of town that we'd all driven past a time or two and spied the formulating blue and white construction.

My supervisor would be Barb. When the building was completed, we moved into our respective units with their pre-ordained cubicles; Barb seated in her extra-special glass-enclosed case up front. Bye-bye sickening garage precipice.

And life went on.

As did country.

My man, Mark Chesnutt:

Pam Tillis:

And still there was Ronnie Milsap:

Some new guy:

Another new guy:

A new duo:

Yes, like me, all the way from '73, Tanya was still live 'n kickin':

Mary Chapin:

Some new group:

The all-time Dwight:

Thursday, November 22, 2018

1990 Music...And A "Career"

By the spring of 1990 I was desperate to escape from Farm Credit Services. It felt like I'd been there forever, when in fact it had only been a little over a year. I'd made friends, one of whom in an attempt to "help", I'd inadvertently had to say goodbye to. Linda's husband was a ranch manager who was ready to move on. I found an ad in the classifieds that was just up his alley and pointed it out to my friend. Before I knew it, Kirk had accepted the job and Linda's whole family moved clear across the state. Aside from the stultifying cloud I worked under, fun came from unexpected sources. Our local United Way conducted a promotion in which people could have someone "arrested" and the person would have to call everyone he or she knew in order to raise "bail" and be released. Before Linda left town, we arranged to have our boss arrested. It was all for charity....

In the fall of each year Bismarck held its annual street fair, which consisted of arts and crafts shopping galore and various corny events, like a pageant that featured contestants from local establishments. We decided to get into the spirit and sponsor an entrant from FCS. We talked one of our co-workers, eventually, into allowing her name to be placed into contention. (Paula ultimately, despite her initial revulsion, found the whole experience exhilarating.) I think half the contender's score was based on the creativity of her sponsor's promotion, so I busied myself drawing up posters and concocting catchy slogans. I believe that was the only time Nancy, my boss, ever offered me a compliment (I knew my strengths). Alas, Paula didn't prevail, but it was a win-win experience for everyone involved.

As a result of quitting smoking, my weight had shot up...and up. I'd gained fifty pounds and was most likely viewed in the office as the FCS schlub. Ultimately, even I became disgusted with myself and plunked down money I couldn't afford to spend to enroll in a program called "Diet Center" (admittedly, not the most original, but at least the most honest, commercial program at the time). Who wouldn't lose weight on a regimen that basically consisted of baked fish, asparagus, and Melba toast? I think a lemon was considered a "free food". I'd done Weight Watchers in the past with my mom, but this was infinitely more restrictive. But once I committed myself to something, I was determined not to fail, and I succeeded wildly. I lost all fifty pounds and more and reduced to a size three before I stopped. I bought clothes at the local consignment shop because my frame continued to shrink. My Diet Center "counselor" tried to talk me into posing for an ad, but my aversion to attention put an absolute kibosh on that notion.

As a downside, I took up smoking again. Damn, I was starving!

(After I'd left FCS, I joined my former cohorts one evening for a get-together on a local bistro's patio, and one of the guys was perplexed when Paula pointed out that I was there. He searched the area for a time and shrugged. I was unrecognizable ~ no longer the schlub.)

In my zeal to get away from Nancy and her disapproving glances, I had been scouring the want-ads for a while. When I spied one that said, "National Insurance Company Seeks Claims Examiners For a New Local Branch", I became obsessed. I fixated on that ad and staked my existence on garnering one of those positions. I knew absolutely nothing about health insurance, but for some unknown reason I understood that this was my destiny, which sounds utterly dumb, but there it was. I applied and received an appointment for a group interview, and henceforth sat in my garage every day after work and smoked and practiced answering hypothetical questions and hyping myself.

The group interview was an assembly line. I'd move to the first queue and answer a question, then shuffle on to the next cluster of interrogators and respond to another. All my practice evaporated. The only thing I had going for me was my medical knowledge from St. Alexius ~ I knew nothing about insurance and they all grasped that.

I was informed I'd hear from them within the week.

I didn't get a callback.

One of the few things I'd ever strived so hard for and I'd utterly failed. My lot was working for FCS and Nancy until I either reached retirement age or chopped her up with an axe.

Out of the blue a couple of weeks later, US Healthcare called and offered me the job.

The pay was exactly the same salary I was making at FCS, but I leapt at the offer. I didn't stop to question why it took them a fortnight to call. The next Monday when I told Nancy I was leaving, she was perplexed and disappointed. When the time came to tell Nancy how inadequate she'd always made me feel, I deflated. What was the point? Why bother? I was gone. Would I feel good about myself unloading on her? I lied and told her I was offered twenty-five cents more per hour. She apologized that she was unable to match the offer, but budgets, you know...Funny how they never tell you they appreciate you until you quit.

It felt strange leaving FCS. It had been a filler job all along, but I'd formed relationships. Unlike the hospital, I was on an even par with most of the people I worked with. They didn't wave their degrees in my face, because like me, nobody had one. They were working class; trying to pay their mortgages and attempting to scratch out a moment of happiness in the midst of their eight-hour slog. I was moving on to a new group of thirty girls I didn't know and I'd have to start all over again. And I was thirty-five, twice most of their ages. I was a mom who bought her clothes at the consignment shop and who had to count her pennies to buy a new pair of pantyhose. I figured, however, at least we were all in this leaky boat together. And if it didn't work out, shoot, I'd become an expert at sussing out the one or two jobs in the newspaper that fit my meager skills.

Musically, I'd become torn. At Farm Credit Services, I mostly tuned my portable radio to the local rock station. Part of that may have been that I liked the morning DJ, Bob Beck; part of it was that I wasn't ready to let rock go. When I'd turned away from country in the mid-eighties because it reeked, I became the quintessential MTV fan, and my sons shared my enchantment with Huey Lewis and Dire Straits. We bonded over pop music and baseball cards.

Country music, however, was harkening me back. Changing one's essence is ultimately a hopeless quest. One can change for a while, but we always come back to the person we intrinsically are.

Luckily for me, Eddie Rabbitt was still around:

One of the best country groups of all time, Highway 101:

A pristine country voice, Patty Loveless:

Mark Chesnutt will forever reside in the top five of my favorite artists:

Tanya Tucker and T. Graham Brown:

Gotta love Steve Wariner:

My lord, Marty Stewart:

Like Eddie, Ronnie Milsap was still hangin' in there:

 Some dude named Garth appeared on the scene:

Ricky Van Shelton:

When someone says "ninety country" (although no one actually does), this will be the song on the tips of everyone's brain:

My new career in health insurance commenced, with country music as a backdrop.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 17, 2018

1979 ~ Back To Real Life

I had no misconceptions regarding what work would be ~ a series of dead-end jobs; maybe I'd eventually land one with tenure and I could coast my way to retirement. I really didn't want a job. I wanted to be a mom, but President Jimmy saw things differently. Being poor wasn't all that bad, but I hated having to charge basic needs, plus the hospital let me know my five dollar-a-month payment for my new son's delivery just wasn't going to cut it. That telephone conversation convinced me I needed to find a job. Before I became a mom my work life was scattershot at best. I'd tried the real world and didn't like it. Being a clerk-typist for the state, I found, didn't mean sitting in a cubbyhole and typing all day. I had to interact with customers, which I guess was the "clerk" part. I didn't know what it was called then, but it turned out I had social phobia, which is in essence a fear of making an utter fool of oneself. Whenever I heard the front door of the State Health Department creak open, I had to steel myself for the inevitable person-to-person interaction. In retrospect, I am convinced I didn't instill confidence in my customer. I would toddle off and retrieve a copy of their birth certificate and mumble, "two dollars". I think I also said, "thank you", because while I was a near-mute, I was perpetually polite. After little more than a year I'd scurried back home to work for my parents. I quit working all together in November of 1976 and nested.

By the summer of '79, the fiscal writing was on the wall. As we pedaled down the expressway in our tin-can Chevy Malibu, I gazed at the building being erected, with a big sign out front that announced, "Future Home of LaBelle's". I said, I'm going to work there. I don't know why; maybe it was the close proximity to home, basically a zip up one street and one zip down another. Possibly it was because the one skill I was confident I possessed was ringing up a cash register. Plus I still retained the naive certainty that this place would be all my hopes and dreams tied up in an azure package; a retail nirvana. And it was part-time.

1979 began nine years of inhabiting second shift, forgoing toddler's bedtime baths, snuggling with little towheads, missing all my favorite TV shows, But life is a series of have-to's. I couldn't place Lego sets and Fisher-Price parking garages under the Christmas tree without the money to buy them and without my ten per-cent employee discount.

LaBelle's was a catalog store, which no longer exists in today's Amazon world. Customers would wander about with a stubby pencil and a pad and write down the number of the item they wanted to purchase; then hand their paper to an associate who'd punch it into a "computer" and the bored guys back in the warehouse would fetch the item from an eight-foot high wobbly shelf and dump it onto the conveyor belt. My job was to grab a hand mic and announce, "Johnny Jamsicle, your order is ready at Register Three. Johnny Jamsicle, Register Three." Johnny would step up to Register Three and I'd ring him up.

Some nights were excruciatingly quiet. Especially Tuesdays. Nobody ever seemed to shop on Tuesdays. So I'd stand behind the counter in my high heels and eye the one person in the store longingly, willing them to order something. Truthfully, LaBelle's was quiet most of the time, except during Christmas season. I would, of course, be scheduled to work Saturday days, and Christmas was the only time the hours whizzed by.

When I had my yearly review, my manager docked me for not coming up with a product display, which I didn't even know was a requirement! I subsequently visited a travel office and gave the girl behind the desk a line about a school project, and talked her out of a vacation poster, which I pasted in the luggage department, along with the words, "Flights of Fancy". Casey, my manager, didn't understand the saying and argued that my word choice was wrong. "It should be flights of fantasy," she proclaimed. I tried to explain to her what a flight of fancy meant. She finally gave up the ghost and let me keep my display. I didn't even get a five-cent raise for all my effort. I did, however, learn a valuable lesson about dealing with morons.

I frankly didn't have much free time to devote to music listening, but I couldn't escape the fact that Kenny Rogers was everywhere. This dude who'd had a minor career with The First Edition in the sixties had reinvented himself as a precursor to Lionel Richie.

The number one song of 1979:

Kenny had five, count 'em, top twenty hits in '79. And that wasn't even his best year. I'm not sure why, but I rolled with the flow. I even saw him in concert once, sitting in the nosebleed seats in Duluth, Minnesota. It was a spur-of-the-moment impulse on my mom's part. We were there; he was there ~ why not?

There were better country songs in 1979; for instance, Eddie Rabbitt:

The Dirt Band:

Don Williams:


T. G. Sheppard:

The Oaks:

I had my Bang and Olufson component stereo I'd bought on credit and a stack of country albums. Sometimes I'd come home from LaBelle's in the dark and slip the needle on one of those LP's, quietly, as to not awaken the kids snug in their beds, and relax with a cup of instant Sanka. 

And think about the pitiful state of my "career".