Saturday, April 11, 2009

HOME IN HEAVEN BUT "I AIN'T GOT NO CIGARETTES"

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On April 10th, 1996, as good a friend as I’ve ever had passed away. This friend also happened to be my Pa. His name was Charles, and I have a number of really funny stories I could tell involving him.

When I was a little boy, Pa would sometimes wake me up for school by suddenly blasting the ROGER MILLER song “You Can’t Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd.” And some people wonder why I’m weirder than loon guano? You can’t wake up every morning to “You Can’t Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd” and turn out [*GASP!*] normal.

For a few days in ’96, my Pa had been feeling quite poorly and finally agreed to go to the hospital. He wasn’t feeling well enough to drive, so I took him there in his Toyota pickup truck. Sitting in the truck in the hospital parking lot, he smoked a cigarette while I waited. After a while I asked, “You ready?” and he said, “I guess so” and snuffed out his cigarette a bit prematurely and we went into the hospital emergency room. Had I known that he was smoking his last cigarette, I wouldn’t have rushed him. But he never walked out of that hospital again, and passed away there within a week. (If you ever want to pay your respects, you can visit his ashes which are mixed into the dirt in the Winner’s Circle at Turf Paradise, Arizona’s premier horse racing track in Phoenix.)

I like to honor people I love who have passed on by playing songs they were fond of, or songs which especially remind me of them, on their birthdays and freedomdays (deathdays). My Pa’s favorite male singer was Nat King Cole; his favorite female singer, Dinah Washington. He liked Country music too. What he played most around the house was Louis Prima and Roger Miller records. I was raised (in more ways than one) to the music of Miller.

Since gaining his freedom from “this world”, my Pa has used music many times to make contact with me from the other side. The first time, in fact, he wasn’t even “dead” yet: He was still hanging on in the hospital when I’d gotten a call at work that he’d taken a turn for the worst. He was no longer conscious. I was rushing to the hospital when the radio station played Nat King Cole’s “Smile.” Somehow, I intuitively knew that I was supposed to accept this as a message from Pa. If you’re familiar with the lyrics to “Smile”, you realize how appropriate they were at a time like that.

Yeah, Pa loved Nat King Cole and every new business venture he’d start would include the name King: “King’s Cleaners”; “Charlie King’s Guaranteed Horse Racing System”; “King Advertising”, etc. I still use the King moniker in his honor. When I have to give a name while waiting to be seated at a restaurant, I almost always tell ‘em King. “King, party of fools and jesters, your table is ready!”

Well, in the 13 years since Pa gained his freedom, he’s frequently used music to reach me. Usually Nat King Cole’s music, but not always. On his birthday last December 10th, I played some Roger Miller and then put on a Louis Prima twofer I own: "The Call Of The Wildest"/"The Wildest Show At Tahoe." I played “There’ll Be No Next Time” of course (one of the funniest songs ever recorded) but only had time to listen to one more. I couldn’t decide which other “King Louis” song to play, so I said, “Pa, you make the decision” and I hit the ‘Random Play’ button on my compact disc player, believing that he would somehow manipulate the machine to play the song of his choice. Track #12 got selected, “On The Sunny Side Of The Street.” And I “got it” when Prima started ad-libbing lyrics: “I used to walk in the shade with the blues on parade and… the monkey wrapped his tail around the flag pole, ahh the flag pole, the north pole, south pole, KING COLE, the water hole…” Ah, there was (Nat) King Cole, even in the midst of Louis Prima!

Yesterday, to celebrate Pa’s Freedomday, I put on Roger Miller’s “Golden Hits” album - a record he himself owned in the LP format. But I was due at work soon and my time was limited. What to play? Well, “King Of The Road” (“Bu-Bu-Bu-Bu-Bum *snap!* Bu-Bu-Bum *snap!* Bu-Bum *snap!*…”) – that’s a no-brainer. And “You Can’t Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd” of course – no questions asked! And although “Chug-A-Lug” and “Kansas City Star” are two favorite Miller songs, for my third selection I went with “Dang Me” because, really, that song’s got my Pa (and me) written all over, under, and through it.

Well, after hearing all three of those tunes, I discovered that I still had time to hear one more because Miller’s songs are ultra-short and I only live 10 minutes from where I work. So, I thought: OK, Pa, I’ll let you pick one. And I hit the ‘Random Play’ button on my disc player. The machine went back to track #1: “Bu-Bu-Bu-Bu-Bum *snap!* Bu-Bu-Bum *snap!* Bu-Bum *snap!*…” Yup, it was “King Of The Road” again. I’ll admit to a twinge of temporary disappointment. I would have chosen something I hadn’t just heard, but if that’s what Pa wanted to hear on his special day, who was I to argue?

I got in my Pa’s old pickup truck to go to work. Now ordinarily, I listen almost exclusively to Pat Metheny’s music while driving and if I turn on the radio at all, it’s usually to 'talk radio.' Here in Phoenix we have a lot of lousy music stations. No Blues, no legitimate Jazz. Oh sure, we’ve got the typical Classic Rock station, but for-crying-out-loud, how many times can one listen to Black Dog, Whole Lotta Love, and Stairway To Heaven? There’s an elevator muzak station that broadcasts from Prescott that I always tune in from December 26th through January 1st. Otherwise, the only music station that gets any play at all in my Pa’s truck is KOY 1230 AM. They play “adult standards” and although there’s nothing the least bit adult or standard about me, I dig some of the old stuffs: Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day. And Nat King Cole. Oh yeah, they like the King at KOY. In fact, it was KOY who played King’s “Smile” that day in ’96 when I was rushing to my Pa’s bedside in that hospital.

As I said, it takes me 10 minutes to get to work. I know because I’m due there at 4 PM and I leave my house at 3:50 PM every day and I’m never late. So, I pulled out of my driveway knowing that I would hear just two songs from KOY on my way to work, but suspecting that one of the two would be by Nat King Cole by way of Charlie King. I was wrong. Instead, what I heard was: “Bu-Bu-Bu-Bu-Bum *snap!* Bu-Bu-Bum *snap!* Bu-Bum *snap!*…” That’s right, the second song KOY played was Roger Miller’s “King Of The Road.” And now I knew why Pa had selected that song when I let him choose one by putting my player on ‘Random Play.’ Pa knew that KOY was due to play “King Of The Road” and he wanted to add that little “twist” or "wrinkle" I always look for as the confirmation that he is present and not that I just happened to coincidentally tune in when a station happened to be playing one of our songs.

Nat King Cole; “King Louis” Prima; King Of The Road; Charlie King.

Leaving work to return home last night, I nearly didn’t play the radio. I was thinking of going back to my Metheny music, pretty sure that the fireworks and messages from the beyond were finished for the day. But I got a feeling that maybe I should just let KOY play for those 10 more minutes. Again, I knew I would be hearing only two songs on the drive home, but I let ‘er rip. And guess what. No, no more Roger Miller. And no Nat King Cole or Louis Prima either. The second song the station played was by some chick. Well, that’s what I thought anyway, until the DJ informed me after the fact that it had been Rod Stewart. No, neither my Pa (duh!) nor I have ever been Rod Stewart fans. But the song Stewart sang? I’m glad you asked. “Smile.”

And as I pulled into my driveway back at the house, the DJ said I should stay tuned because he had some Nat King Cole with Natalie Cole coming up soon. But I was tired and went to bed. OK, OK, Pa! - I got the message already! Sheesh! Ya act like I'm dumb or sumpin'.

For those of you who believe that your loved ones can’t reach you from the other side I have these three words to say: YOU ARE RIGHT! I agree with you completely. It is written: “Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they’re yours.”

Hey, PA, this song’s for you:

Well here I sit, high, gettin' ideas
Ain't nothing but a fool would live like this
Out all night and runnin' wild
Woman’s sittin' home with a month old child

CHORUS:
Dang me, dang me
They oughta take a rope and hang me
High from the highest tree
Woman would you weep for me?

Just sittin' around drinkin' with the rest of the guys
Six rounds bought, and I bought five
Spent the groceries and half the rent
Lacking fourteen dollars, having twenty-seven cents.

Roses are red and violets are purple
Sugar’s sweet and so is maple syrple
I was the seventh out of seven sons
My pappy was a pistol; I'm a son of a gun

~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

STM,

You touched my heart with this one.

I lost my Pop in 2002. A "pack a day" guy for his entire adult life. He said when he got drafted into the Army and sent to Korea they (being the army) gave him a pack of Lucky Strikes and he never looked back.

He was more of a man than I could ever dream of being. That's saying something considering who I am. : )

WP

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

OL' WP ~
So this is where your comment went! I mistakenly thought this comment was intended for the "Dear Diarrhea" Blog Bit, and when it didn't get published there, I was left with the mistaken impression that a computer bug ate it somehow.

A few days ago, I happened to discover your comment posted here when I was trying to decide which of my Blog Bits to include on my "Greatest Hits" page.

I was having trouble making up my mind whether I should use this one, or "For Those Who Like Their Suds", but when I was pleasantly surprised to find your "missing" comment posted here, that's when I decided to make this one the final choice in my "Top 10."

So, thanks, Brother, for your comment, which was the deciding factor in helping me to make up my mind. Very glad ya liked this one, Green-O. I thank you and my Pa thanks you!

~ STMcC
<"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
so a fool repeats his folly."
~ Proverbs 26:11>

farawayeyes said...

Thanks. Glad I 'finally' got to read this one.