Detritus, Literal and Figurative

A sudden subterranean aquatic event has caused us to empty out our basement, thwarting our malign intentions of having our son do it after we croak.  We awoke Tuesday morning to the event in progress, and today (Wednesday) a salvage crew from a firm referred by our insurance company arrived to inventory damages and take stuff offsite to be cleaned and returned to us, if salvageable.

We’ve lived in the house since New Year’s Eve of 1974, so you can probably see where this is going.  We substantially remodeled in 1981, and stored the house’s then-contents, of course, in the basement.  In retrospect, it’s amazing how much stuff just never made it upstairs again.

I practice my trumpet down there, and have been subliminally aware that the space required to erect my music stand and assume a position at a distance befitting my age-appropriate focal length was becoming problematic.  It was easy to espy a couple boxes and assume (unfairly, as it turned out) that it was due to our son’s appetite for parental self-storage, and feel momentarily absolved.

The salvage crew arrived shortly after 8am, and we were stunned to learn that the entire basement needed to be cleared out in order to observe their protocols.   So began a process of speed-dating with 43 years of my past, wherein we had split-seconds to make keep-or-toss choices as the patient, but certainly judging, young folks held trash bags waiting for our binary decisions.  If we had engaged this task ourselves, we would certainly have spent days or weeks agonizing over every talisman, but with dollars instead of sand pouring relentlessly through the hourglass, we had the place empty in just about 6 hours.

It was really like watching a twitchy fast-forward home movie of our lives.  An artifact would surface, and an associated memory would flash in my brain, but just as suddenly it would go blank, as there was no time to linger.

I reflect back on the day with an odd sort of sense of accomplishment, which tends to overshadow the gut-wrenching trauma of awakening on Tuesday.  What will keep me awake tonight?  Wondering if we saved Skeletor’s Castle.  I remember seeing it behind something, but I was not the final arbiter.

Click to engorge

We did manage to save Mr. Bunny, the constant companion of our young son.  Mr. Bunny is a survivor of decades, including an emergency FedEx trip from Ohio to Seattle over a grueling 48 hours of absence.

My Salon-tro

So a group of us who cut our blogging teeth in the early ‘aughts on a platform sponsored by Salon Magazine has decided to try to break the FB/Twitter microblogging straitjacket and reincarnate our former blogging selves, at least for the month of February.  Kind of like a rookie contract on the taxi squad.  We’ll be cross-posting by linking in a Facebook group.  Sticking it to the Man!

I like the idea, as I think my writing chops, such as they were, have withered since blogging gave way to the largely empty calories of FB and Twitter.  I’ve maintained my Salon blog name as a dedicated domain, and post something every couple of months when something jumps into my head, probably aliens hacking my brain through my remaining silver amalgam fillings.  (I’m actually not sure if I have any of those left, as I had a dentist in the 70s and 80s who was hellbent on replacing them with gold onlays.  I think he may have had a William Jennings Bryant dartboard in his office.  Guys from my crematory are going to have a pretty grand weekend, but I hope they have to wait a while).

I happened onto the Salon platform sometime in 2003, when I subscribed to the online magazine.  I hadn’t heard of “blogging” before, and it sounded like a mechanism to keep a promise to write that I’d made to myself in high school.  I was editor of our school newspaper my senior year, and gave myself permission to write a “humor” column called Philbo’s Phollies, after a regrettably enduring nickname that an asshole math teacher hung on me in 7th grade.  I wanted to style it after a syndicated feature in the Toledo Blade at the time called The Squirrel Cage, written by a Seattle Post-Intelligencer guy named Douglass Welch.  The Squirrel Cage was a series of vignettes populated by characters in a nondescript suburban neighborhood, which pretty much characterized my home town, but was adept at exposing human foibles humorously and with self-deprecation.

I kind of thrilled at the way stuff found its way from fugitive pockets of my subconscious onto the page through my prosaic ink pen, but once I graduated it fell fallow.   As time went by, technological advances such as the IBM PC, word processing programs, Usenet and maillists seemed to make the task of writing less onerous and more likely to be appreciated, but I never engaged until I followed that link to Salon blogging.

The platform had a satisfying array of folks, some who went on to be A-listers, and many of us have kept in touch through social media.  I never got into politics or confessional drama (and still won’t), preferring to try to entertain a bit and make the occasional effort to post a more polished piece.  I kept hoping that more people would read and comment, but I ended up with about 10.  The few, the proud.  When Facebook came along, there was so much more contact, and I like it for the relaxed connectivity it affords.  When I can post a photo and get 70 “likes” by midnight, it seems more gratifying than working on a blog piece for 90 minutes and get a comment or 2.  Seems, but it’s ephemeral, and in a half hour it’s submerged in a gaggle of cats.

I’ll keep my presence on Facebook because it’s kind of a free-for-all home room, but I’m hoping to rekindle that rewarding feeling of making more considered prose.

Mi Cumpleanos

So I approach another birthday, insignificant in terms of celebrated “zero” numerology, but it’s still there and has to be navigated.  I think these are “speed-bump” birthdays, but they’re becoming less disruptive, and more complicit in abetting my hurtling to dusty doom.

It’s like I’m cruising along, as we do in a comfortable car that befits our age, registering the occasional Mail Pouch barn painting, even perhaps a Burma Shave collection of signs (Sleepy?/Just remember, pard,/That marble slab/Is doggone hard.), when I check my speedometer and - shit! - see it says 68.  I was sure I had put it on cruise control at 50.

Even so, it’s just a blip.  When I hit this late October birthday, in recent years, I’ve been thinking that, Hey!, even if I get a diagnosis, I’ve got one more summer.  And since I mostly avoid my doctor, I’m unlikely to even have a diagnosis.

So here we go again, one more lap around the celestial wristwatch.  Look forward to my 69th.

Hello, Seattle, 43 Years Ago

Click to engorge

So I’ve been watching Mad Men fitfully for a couple years on Netflix, haven’t pushed into the last half of the last season just yet.

It beguiles and intrigues me because it’s set in the 1955-1965 time when my parents were reaching the apex of their youth and surfing, however timidly, the incredible surge of the post-war economy and culture.  Of course, there’s the costumes and props and maddening telephone technology in Mad Men that resonate, but also wisps of the urgent issues of the day, and how the writers ingeniously filtered them through office culture.

I worked at summer jobs at my dad’s manufacturing plant ( they made glass for General Motors) in the late 60s, and, although we weren’t working in a Manhattan high-rise, we were still firmly attached to the skeleton  that underlay the social and professional fabric of the country, so in so many ways my dad’s office in middle America was just a door or two away from Don Draper’s.

43 years ago, perhaps to the day, (I’ll close this loop in a moment), Mrs. Perils and I returned to our post-college digs in Bowling Green, Ohio, from a breathtaking trip to Seattle, took a look in the mirror, and decided that we were going to be those guys that, as Huck Finn said, lit out for the territory.  We hitched a 4×8 U-Haul to my ‘67 Pontiac Tempest and headed for Seattle.

In the Mad Men episode I just watched, Don has just walked out of a meeting in Manhattan and begun driving west, to a future as uncertain as we faced in 1974.  Somewhere around Cleveland, the ghost of Bert Cooper appears in the passenger seat and recites Kerouac: “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”

The question, of course, is existential and not merely geographical.  It was sufficiently laden with emotion in the Mad Men plot, but - and I’m not a crier - I found myself suddenly weeping (in a manly way), a late-summer squall exposing long-forgotten topology.  Where was I (we) going back in October, 1974, taking leave of family we knew would feel our absence and (probably) question our choice?  By all measures, we’ve had a wonderful life, and connected deeply with our families, but at the time it didn’t seem so certain.

I think “Whither goest thou” is a trenchant question for life’s next adventure.  And this car, this formerly shiny car, nonetheless seems up for another cycle around the odometer.


Click to engorge

Suddenly it’s October, my birth month, and there’s a bite in the air and a decidedly more severe angle to the sunlight, as if it’s beginning to ration itself, as opposed to its June - August profligacy.

In its honor, here’s one of the most gorgeous pieces I’ve ever played, Eric Whitacre’s October for concert band.  This recording is from the 2013 LGBA (Lesbian Gay Band Association) concert that Betsy and I traveled to Atlanta to participate in.

It’s a tone poem, and ingeniously imparts the possibility of warm, brilliant days in October, while constantly reminding that it’s a month of inexorable attrition, decay and loss, as its mood swings from  brilliant brass to minor-key woodwinds.

October - Eric Whitacre:

50th Reunion Letter to the Class of ‘67

It’s amazing how the years have melted away.  I’m sorry I can’t be there with you next weekend, I was just in Columbus last weekend to march and play with the Ohio State Marching Band Alumni.  I would have stayed through the week if my mom still lived in Pburg, but the only remaining family that would host me are in the cemetery.  It’s a lovely cemetery, but my superannuated slumber there would most likely be interpreted by the employees there as inventory.

After PHS graduation, I attended Ohio State, eventually graduating in 1971 with a degree in Accounting.  Along the way, I got to do something I’d lusted after in high school as much as that Raquel Welch poster from One Million Years BC - I tried out for and made the Ohio State Marching Band.  Biggest thrills: playing in The Big House at Michigan, and the 1971 Rose Bowl and Rose Parade.

After graduation, I worked for a (formerly) Big Eight accounting firm in Toledo for about a year and a half, but I really didn’t like it, and quit before the onset of my second “busy season”.  I’d had this idea from high school that I really wanted to be a writer, and enrolled in courses at Bowling Green for writing, and reading literature that I was supposed to read in high school but never did.

Betsy Piez and I had our first date around Thanksgiving of 1966.  It was really glamorous.  I was editor of the Somethin’, and was covering the basketball game at Lake, and I dragged her along.  Must have been the cachet of that byline, we stuck together even after I left for college (she was a sophomore).  She was her class valedictorian, and went to the elite college (Carnegie-Mellon), while lazy me got the default state school.  Pittsburgh’s not that far from Columbus, and we did lots of weekend commuting.  After she graduated, she joined me in Bowling Green and we moved in together, to the consternation of both our families.  We eventually relieved the familial tension and married in June, 1974, more detailed story here:

The writing thing never panned out for me - lazy again, probably - and we arrived at a restless stage.  However, when I was working in Toledo, one of my co-workers got a job teaching accounting at Seattle University, and we took him up on an invitation to visit, driving across the country in 50 hours.  He took us on a 3-day bicycle trip, and a backpacking trip.  We fell in love with Seattle.  We were outdoors types, even in Bowling Green, daily runners and frequent bicyclers.  We drove back reluctantly to Bowling Green and, a month later, loaded up a 5×8 U-Haul and moved to Seattle.

I worked fitfully as a bicycle mechanic for a few months, then went back to work in accounting.  I still didn’t like doing taxes and auditing all that well, but it was a living.  Then, in the early 80s, people began buying IBM PCs and asking us how to do their accounting on them.  I migrated to systems consulting, and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing ever since.  I started my own business in 2001, and finally found professional fulfillment by doing so.

We’ve had a sweet life here in Seattle.  Shortly after moving here in 1975 we rented a house near Greenlake about 4 miles north of downtown because Greenlake was a popular running venue, and bought it (the house, not the lake) later that year.  We still live there, with 42 years’ worth of detritus filling the basement and threatening any fondness our son (see below) might have had for us.

Our son and only child, Andrew, was born in 1981, and lives close enough to visit on a weekend, but far enough away to have his own life.

Betsy and I met in high school band, but after college, didn’t play our instruments (clarinet for her, trumpet for me) except for Ohio State band reunions.  In 2009, I decided that I’d like to find a community band to play with, and that spurred Betsy to exhume her high school clarinet, and we both joined a band here in Seattle that is LGBT-based.  We’re a marching band in the summer, playing in parades from Seattle to Vancouver, BC, and in fall, winter and spring we’re a concert band that I think Frank Menichetti ( would be pleased to hear, and it’s become a major hub of our life. We’ve been calling it our Reunion Tour.

Last summer I had an unexpected opportunity to connect with Perrysburg.  I was notified that the Ohio State Alumni Band would be playing in a parade and concert for Perrysburg’s Sesquicentennial.  Since my younger brother Brian was in the OSU band, we decided to come back and participate.  Details here:

Besides playing my trumpet, I love sea kayaking, and exploring the incredible coastline of the Salish Sea.

In high school, I was a band geek, and band was my primary social life and the primary object of whatever effort my lazy ethos might engender, so I didn’t socialize as much with you non-band classmates.  I have immensely enjoyed acquainting with many of you on Facebook and hope you will continue to stay in touch even though I’m not attending the reunion.  Be well, and have a great reunion.  Send pictures.

Feliz Cumpleanos, mi Hermano!

Tomorrow’s my middle brother’s (Larry Philbin) birthday,and I have a few things to say about that.

Our mom was a girly-girl, and they had hot girl names picked out for each of us 3 until that wrinkly birth-borne appendage destroyed their hopes. I was to be Cynthia Leigh, Larry Philbin was to be Beth Anne; Brian Philbin was to be Sharon Leigh.

While I became a sorta-soft band geek, Larry arrived with a blazing arm and power hitting in high school and AAU. Don’t tell him, but I actually looked up to him.

But this is about brotherly interactions. When I was in college and visiting home, my younger but physically-equally-proportionate brother and I would mingle, then I would split for college while he had to damp down the crazy at home.

This one time when I was leaving for OSU, I was hauling my luggage to the garage when, out from an adjacent bathroom, an air pistol appeared. In the bathroom between the frontier and freedom stood Larry Philbin demanding to open my suitcase. Unarmed, I complied.

Over the course of several minutes, he developed a pile of various apparel that I could not deny I was pilfering as I fled the house for a higher cause.

Larry Philbin, that was fucking hilarious. Happy Birthday!

Re-routed from Facebook before it sinks under the dirty wave.

OSU-Michigan - Once Again, the Enduring Spectacle

A little background for the uninitiated - All three of us - I and my two younger brothers - graduated from Ohio State. Our parents and maternal grandparents attended OSU as well, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the OSU-Michigan football game has become a focal point of our shared experience. From oldest (me) to youngest, we brothers span 10 years, so we’ve had a wide range of exposure to this annual rite.

My first Michigan game was when I was in high school. My maternal grandparents had season tickets each year at OSU, and bought four Michigan tickets when the games were played in Ann Arbor. They would drive up to our place near Toledo and take my Mom & Dad, but this one time I got a ticket because someone decided not to go. I recall watching the OSU backfield of Paul Warfield (later Miami Dolphins), Matt Snell (NY Jets) and QB Don Unverferth (nowhere. OSU quarterbacks at that time were there to hand the ball to the running backs) playing against Michigan QB Bob Timberlake. That’s all from memory, so sorry if I overlooked some NFL Hall of Famers that just didn’t register.

The first Game that meant something to me occurred in 1968. Prior to 1968, OSU’s football fortunes had been in decline, and choruses of “Goodbye, Woody” wafted through Ohio Stadium during the 1967 season, my freshman year. Then, in 1968, a group of “super-sophs” including Rex Kern, Jack Tatum, Mike Sensibaugh, Stan White, John Brockington, Jim Stillwagon and others hit the scene (freshmen could not play on the varsity team in those years), and a juggernaut was launched that revived OSU football, Woody’s career, and allowed Woody and Bo Schembechler to “brand” the OSU-Michigan game as the football version of the final battle in the Lord of the Rings.

The 1968 season saw the Buckeyes march through the season undefeated, gathering momentum and believers along the way. We had Michigan at home that year and beat them 50-14. After scoring our last touchdown, Woody went for a 2-point conversion instead of kicking for 1. When someone asked him why, legend has it that he said, “Because I couldn’t go for 3.” Here’s the postgame scene in Ohio Stadium. (click on any of these pictures to enlarge):

I wasn’t in the band that year, didn’t try out until the next year, but I had a pretty fine season ticket in C-deck, right in front of the press box. In case you’re rubbing your eyes in disbelief, don’t - that’s $14 for the whole season.:

That 1968 team beat O. J. Simpson and USC in the Rose Bowl to win the national championship, and rolled through the 1969 season so impressively that sportswriters thought the only competition they could get was in the NFL. In those years, only the Big Ten champion could go to a bowl game, and there was a “no-repeat” rule that barred us from returning to the Rose Bowl even if we won the Big Ten title outright, so the game in Ann Arbor was to be our bowl game and, we were sure, our coronation as repeat national champs and, in our minds, the team of the century.

Michigan, under new coach Bo Schembechler, dealt us a bitter 24-12 defeat that day, one of only two games that that class would lose in their 3 years at OSU. It was my first year in the band, and, though I’d lived one of my dreams by playing in The Big House, it was a forlorn bus ride back to Columbus.

In the 1970 season OSU again ran through the season undefeated and took a #1 ranking into the Michigan game, and we had them at home this time. The picture below is of our band just after we took the field for pregame. The crowd noise was so loud that many of us couldn’t hear the drummers, and could only take the beat by watching their feet. That pregame entrance was one of my biggest thrills ever  I’m somewhere in that block band marching down the field for pregame.

We beat Michigan that year and played Stanford and Jim Plunkett in the Rose Bowl.

With the Tatum-Brockington-Kern class gone in 1971, we were a pretty ordinary team. We even lost to Northwestern at home! Michigan, on the other hand, had a powerhouse team coming into The Game, which was played that year in Ann Arbor. Surprisingly, we held our own against UM and, with 2 minutes left, had the ball and could have been driving for the winning score. Then, a Michigan defensive back intercepted a Buckeye pass after, from my vantage, palpably interfering with our receiver. No interference penalty was called, and Woody went nuts. He raged around the field berating officials and, at one point, destroyed the yardline markers on his sideline.

Our director felt that it would be best if the band left the stadium at that point as, even in normal years, people would grab at us and swipe mouthpieces and clothing. Our seats were on the sideline on the floor of the northeast corner of the stadium, right by the goal line. I was packing up my stuff and pulling on my long overcoat when the drum major approached me with the goal line marker that he’d just lifted off the field while everyone else in the stadium was apparently watching Woody’s tantrum. He asked me to slip it under my coat and carry it to the bus. In that atmosphere, with 100,000 potential assassins in the stands and a narrow tunnel to squeeze through to freedom, it was like Wile E. Coyote handing Road Runner a stick of dynamite. Too young and stupid to know I could die, and flattered that he’d asked, I did it.

Back in the bus, he and I pulled it apart - it was an “A” shape with two identical faces. I had to rat through several boxes in the basement to find what Mrs. Perils calls my “piece of the true cross”, but find it I did, and it’s pictured below, the relic of my final game in an OSU band uniform.

My 911 Story (rescued from Facebook oblivion)

I was working in Milwaukee when 911 happened. I don’t watch TV in the morning (I seldom watch it in the evening, either), and I arrived at my client’s that Tuesday morning to see folks in the lunchroom huddled around a small TV. I asked “what’s up”, and they couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard. I was just in time for the second plane impact.

The immediate shutdown of the nation’s airspace of course threatened my Friday evening flight back to Seattle, and I plotted to hijack my rental car to drive home. (As the saying goes, “It’s never too far in a Company car.”) As luck would have it, airline schedules resumed on Friday. At the Milwaukee airport, there were crowds of folks whose flights had been cancelled during the week trying to get onto the newly-released flights.

However, because I had a boarding pass for a flight that hadn’t been cancelled, I was able to walk past them (not unsympathetically, cuz a few hours one way or another would have cast me among them) to check my bags and board my flight.

But I remember those 3 days when the sky was eerily silent, and the almost bipolar uncertainty and angry disdain for religious zealots once again run amok. There was coverage in the Milwaukee press of city leaders positing, almost wistfully, that a plane could perhaps target the Firstar building (their tallest building).

But, the peril to the Firstar building notwithstanding, I was heartened at how we as a nation willed ourselves toward a resolute, but more sober, normalcy.

Home, Once More

My Ohio State Marching Band Alumni has a “regular band”, a year-round group that plays concerts, parades, funerals, weddings and other special Buckeye occasions.  Of course, you have to live within driving distance of Columbus to participate, which definitely rules me ineligible as long as a private jet is beyond my means.

Last winter, however, I received a notification from them that they would be playing a parade and concert for the bicentennial of my hometown, Perrysburg, Ohio, and it got me thinking.

I moved away from Perrysburg in 1974 but, because my parents and grandparents lived out their lives there and I visited fairly frequently, there was always a sense that it was home (despite the fact that the bulk of my life has been lived in Seattle).  Once we moved my Mom out of our childhood home in 2013, however, nothing remained with enough gravitational pull to justify a destination-based trip back there..until the coalescence of a Bicentennial, TBDBITL (the OSU Alumni Band) and two brothers who apparently were also looking for a reason to hit the Burg once more.  My youngest brother also played in the OSU band, the OSU people responded affirmatively to our request to join them for the festivities, and our trip was on.

It seemed strange booking a hotel room in the town where I’d always just crashed at my parents’ place, especially since the hotel was less than a mile’s walk from there.  We arrived on a Thursday, walked around town a bit and dined at a pretty decent restaurant in “downtown” Perrysburg.

Although eclipsed by nearby Toledo in size, Perrysburg has always been an independent municipality and never a soulless suburb.  Its “downtown” stretch of independent retailers, however, suffered greatly over the last 2 decades, as mega-malls and big box retailers sucked away their customer base.  On this trip, for the first time in a long while, I observed a renaissance along the main drag, Louisiana Avenue.  For many of the venues, we could hardly walk through the front door.  Although inconvenienced, I was happy for them.

(Click to enlarge)

Our parade and concert was Saturday.  First would be the parade, and then the concert later in the afternoon.  The OSU band staged for the parade on the grounds of Elm Street Elementary, a block from (wife) Betsy’s childhood home, where my high school marching band used to rehearse on foggy fall mornings, hard by the building where my mother-in-law taught 3rd grade for 20 years.  As we waited to enter the parade, I spoke with an old friend, an OSUMB sousaphone player from my high school band who had lived up the street from me and had spurred me to a running regime in order to try out for the OSU band.  A running regime that I would carry on for 40 years.

The parade up the main street of town was so reminiscent of the Memorial Day parades our high school band played in.  Later, I saw our concert was setting up in view of the building where I attended Junior High, and right in front of the (long gone) Perry Dairy Bar, where I used to sneak off-campus for hamburger & french fry lunches.

I started to feel like I was in an alternate reality, one where I had never left town, where I recognized everyone on the street and knew their dogs’ names.  Could I envision myself satisfied with playing little bandbox engagements instead of the thrill of massive, raucous, bawdy urban Pride Parades in front of half a million screaming fans?  I gazed at the audience that was assembling, nibbling on picnic lunches and hailing neighbors, and then I espied my high school band director (Judy Justus) in the stands.  I left my seat in the trumpet section, ran over and gave her a hug.  The concert began, time slowed down and for a while I could imagine myself…content.

During the concert, they introduced folks in the band who had Perrysburg connections, including me.  After the concert, several people I’d known in high school, people I hadn’t seen in 50 years, came up and introduced themselves, and that only added to the feeling of alternate reality.

After the concert, my brothers, their wives and I paid a visit to a couple who live next door to our childhood home.  I’ve always enjoyed them and loved them for the support they provided for my parents in later years, and we had a good time catching up.  But our ulterior motive was to see what the new owners had done to our place.  Our friend/neighbor contacted the new owners, and we were awarded a tour of the extensively, but sensitively, remodeled residence.

My parents built the house and we moved in in 1961, signified by a Lincoln 1961 penny enmeshed in the concrete of our front sidewalk.  It was eerie to walk through the place.  They had blown out a back wall and built a modern kitchen and changed the interior floor plan in ways that our mom had often wished for.  Each time Mom would develop a plan, however, our dad would shake his head and say, “We can’t do that, that’s a bearing wall.”  The “bearing wall” cupidity we observed would have boggled our mom’s mind, in addition to pantsing our dad.  As we left, we saw that the front sidewalk had been rebuilt.  With a bit of trepidation, we walked to the end and saw..two pennies embedded in the new concrete: our original 1961 coin, and their 2016.  They will forever be our heroes.

(Click to enlarge)

As night fell, we headed west on River Road to visit old friends who had made their lives in Perrysburg.  As we entered their place, their music system was blaring OSU marching band songs that turned out to be on a record that I was playing on in 1971.  This never happens to me in Seattle.

We caught up with a lot of history, marveled at our friend’s opulent riverside digs, and I let the experience of a warm, fecund midwestern summer night soak in.  We said our good-nights in the cricket-and-tree-frog cacophony, with the river ambling picturesquely by, and it was strangely seductive.

But my morning flight from Detroit to Seattle emerged insistently on my phone, and that same raspy lozenge of - not discontent, exactly, but more of an Urge For Going - that spurred me west in 1974 hastened me inexorably to the airport, and on to my real home at the edge of the continent.