Of All the Gin Joints in All the World…

Or in this case, with apologies to Rick in the movie Casablanca: Of all the bookstores in all the towns in all the world, the book walks into mine…

From the First-Time-For-Everything department: among the used books that came in with inventory-adds was a copy of my own book. As it turns out, it is somewhat of a scarce item, these days.

Nils Thor Granlund: The Swedish Showman Who Invented American Entertainment had a tiny press run ten years ago before the title was acquired by McFarland Publishing, which changed the name, among other things. It is still a biography of NTG, an enterprising showman who was once described as the “highest paid entertainer” in the US. He died virtually penniless, despite having discovered and brought to the bright lights some of the top show business people of his time.

Knowing how few copies of the Inlandia Press version exist, it is almost astonishing to have a pristine copy brought into the shop – almost undoubtedly returning to the place where it was purchased (although ten years ago we were in a different location on Main St.). The McFarland publishing contract required the earlier version be pulled from the market, so it is out-of-print, although the McFarland version is still out there.

It’s a bittersweet reunion. The book is an unread copy, without question, which is a little deflating to the old ego. The flip-side is – it is such a nice copy of such a scarce thing, that I’m happy to have it back without it ever having been cracked open!

I glanced inside to remind myself what year it was published (2008), and it surprised me that it was a decade ago. How time flies, these days.

The kicker?

It’s an autographed copy… which certainly devalues an otherwise perfectly-acceptable book.

We’re still serving lunches daily (except Sunday) from 11am to 2pm. Come by and let us serve YOU!

St. Paddy and the Kid Zone.

It made me think about Kid Fun, back when I was a kid. The poster on the shop window is advertising the ShamRock-the-Rose-District party, scheduled for tomorrow, and – in addition to craft beers and live music – it mentions a Kid Zone.

That probably means a Bouncy-House and some face painting. I’ve not been to a Kid Zone in a while, admittedly, so there could well be video gaming and selfie-snapping as well.

When I was a kid, and owing to my sweet tooth, I was fascinated by the Cake Walk. A chance to win an entire, fresh-baked cake for the price of a ticket. A carnival ticket cheap enough that a cake-loving kid could afford to give it a shot.

kMillsCakeWalk

It was easy to recognize the event as a carnival favorite: It didn’t run continuously, so when folks began to sense it was nearing cake-walk-time, they would sidle up to the edge of the gaming circle. Then, when the call went out, all those lingerers would quickly step into an open space on the double-lined ring taped off on the ground. There were only so many numbered spots available and once the circle filled – well, the rest of the hopefuls were out of luck.

The Cake Walk was like a horizontal Wheel of Fortune without the tough questions to answer. The music started and the march began. When the person in front of you moved out of their numbered square, you took that small step forward. We’d march around for the length of that 45-rpm song playing on that little box of a record player.

When the music ended, the finger-crossing began, in hopes that the number to be drawn from the hat would match the digits under your feet. There was always a tension-delay – a pause before the winning number was enthusiastically called out. Time enough to shift your feet a couple of times to look down and verify that – for certain – the number you were standing on was still the same number.

Number Five! And there would be a squeal of delight from that spot on the circle, while everyone else kept their groans to a polite minimum before disappointedly slinking away to another rambunctious activity.

Like the fishing thing. It’s been too long, but I’m sure it had some catchy name. There were fishing poles handed out from the volunteers to the participants, sturdy poles with long heavy twine dangling from the business end. Instead of an actual hook – a clothes pin.

beatles45

I’ve admitted to most of you that I was probably the most naïve kid west of the Mississippi, but I even embarrassed myself for that brief instant before I realized there were people standing behind the hanging bed sheets who were clipping prizes to the dangling clothespins.

(I don’t know what I thought: I mean, the fishing pole implied ‘fishing’ and some degree of skill, experience, knowledge… No. You slung the line over the sheet and someone clipped on a prize. Woo.)

So, it was ‘grab bag’ on a stick. My prize?

A 45. Yellow and red label, Capitol Records. The Beatles. I Saw Her Standing There.
It was the beginning of my fan-hood, the predicator to my visits to that storm-cellar of a record department at Hunt’s Department Store, a retail area about twice the size of my bedroom closet.

Being naïve, I later bought with empty-pop-bottle-earned cash, a record – also by the Beatles – on a straight black label. The song was called “My Bonnie,” as in, My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie lies over the sea.

I thought the record was doing most of the lying, since even I could recognize the singing as rock-and-roll short-shrift. I examined the label more closely. Sure enough, The Beatles. And in little, tiny print just below that: “with Tony Sheridan.” In fact, this was a Tony Sheridan record with the early-day Beatles as his studio backing band. The label should have read TONY SHERIDAN (with musicians who became the Beatles).

Beatles or not, it maintained a place in my stack of records for years and years – if only to remind a take-it-at-face-value guy that sometimes it pays to read the fine print.

Dashboard Drumming & other Reminiscences.

I was nineteen and an evangelist for Billy Joel, certain that I was the only person in the world who had ever heard of him. I was determined to change that.

Freshly settled into my garage apartment, there was a plant on the windowsill and a chair in the corner. The primary décor though, was that blaster of a stereo. On my own, livin’ large, no Dad-man to TID me. (Turn-it-Down: that was a time before earbuds, you know.)

I suppose Billy Joel’s music must have come to me through the ionosphere or through some cosmic wave-bounces. I don’t know how else I would have heard of him. Oh sure, there was that Piano Man thing on the radio, but had anyone really listened to him? Really Listened? I’d ask, Have you heard of this guy named Billy Joel? Nah. Everyone had heard of Billy Jack, and Billy Bob, and Billy – our local home-town guitar-slinger.

billy-joel-streetlife-seranade_back

Billy Joel, not so much.

In our small town, you could count the number of young singles with their own apartments. I imagine somebody probably did. Like I said. Small town. I had my share of visitors, and – they paid the proselytizer’s price: I was going to make believers out of them with a fairly loud dose of Billy Joel’s album “Streetlife Serenade.”

You gotta hear this! I’d say, lowering the needle onto the record. And the piano started. There weren’t any more new Beatles records, but what came out of the speakers on this album had the Fab-Four’s mix of ballads and rockers and thought-provokers and tear-jerkers. Vocals and instrumentals. Harmonies. Lead guitar solos. Oh, yeah. Piano, too.

Wait, wait, I’d plead, when my guest would begin to fidget. This one other song… you’ve GOT to hear this one! I guess I figured to wear them down into liking it.

And so, that’s how I became the young single guy with his own apartment that no one visited anymore. (Kidding. It was a small town, after all. They just started bringing their own music with them.)

I subsequently ended my career as a Billy Joel Preacher. In truth, either BJ changed, or I did, because none of his later works seemed to knock me back in the way of Streetlife Serenade. He had plenty of big hits in the years to come, but – alas – he was forced to promote them on his own.

I was out on dragging friends in front of my stereo to hear him.

Put the album on this evening (I say that as though I placed a platter on a turntable. Nah. Streamed it. My old vinyl was pretty well worn.)

Turned it up. Then tweaked it up just a little big more, just in time for my air-drumsticks to knock down that roll before the third chorus with the perfect-piercing falsetto from a young Billy Joel.

That probably wasn’t my Dad telling me to turn it down, but I did anyway.

Once that last song was over.

(In case you’d like to hear it:

Ahhh, heck. There I go, getting all Billy Joel evangelistic…)