Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Personal (page 1 of 7)

Testors Model Paint

The cool thing about the writing is not just the story, but the little details, the verbal brushstrokes you add to the story that sometimes are from your past; in this case, a little “Testors model paint” that I have one of the characters talking about.

It’s just a small detail in the story, but one that adds a bit of “color” if you can excuse the pun.

Remember Testors? I haven’t thought about this paint brand name in years, but there it was right there in my memory bank to use today.

Growing up in the 60s/70s I tried to make a lot of Revell and Aurora model airplanes, cars, and battleships. My models never looked like the ones on the box. Either I used way too much glue or my paint job was horrendous.

But, I’ll let Bill Bryson explain it in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (2006)

Making models was reputed to be hugely enjoyable… But when you got the kit home and opened the box the contents turned out to be of a uniform leaden gray or olive green, consisting of perhaps sixty thousand tiny parts, some no larger than a proton, all attached in some organic, inseparable way to plastic stalks like swizzle sticks. The tubes of glue by contrast were the size of large pastry tubes. No matter how gently you depressed them they would blurp out a pint or so of a clear viscous goo whose one instinct was to attach itself to some foreign object—a human finger, the living-room drapes, the fur of a passing animal—and become an infinitely long string. Any attempt to break the string resulted in the creation of more strings. Within moments you would be attached to hundreds of sagging strands, all connected to something that had nothing to do with model airplanes or World War II. The only thing the glue wouldn’t stick to, interestingly, was a piece of plastic model; then it just became a slippery lubricant that allowed any two pieces of model to glide endlessly over each other, never drying. The upshot was that after about forty minutes of intensive but troubled endeavor you and your immediate surroundings were covered in a glistening spiderweb of glue at the heart of which was a gray fuselage with one wing on upside down and a pilot accidentally but irremediably attached by his flying cap to the cockpit ceiling. Happily by this point you were so high on the glue that you didn’t give a shit about the pilot, the model, or anything else.

The Shock and Tragedy Felt Halfway Around the World

I didn’t know about it until early in the morning on the 12th.

 

And when I saw those images of the towers, the smoke, the fire and the second plane being played over and over again I could not believe what I was seeing. I refused to believe what I was seeing.

 

No, this cannot be happening!

 

It had happened and halfway around the world I broke down and cried.

 

It was the night of the 11th in Korea and there had been a graduation ceremony at the language institute I taught at that had ended a little after 8:00. Afterwards, I came back to my apartment in the teacher’s dormitory. I had to work the next day—interviewing new students for our language program as well as fly from Seoul to Kunsan Air Base in the evening to interview three female F-16 pilots (the following day) for a newspaper a feature story I was going to write.

 

Being it was a Tuesday night in Korea, Monday Night Football would be on at 7:30. (The game was recorded live from a satellite feed in the morning from the West Coast and then later played that night in Korea.) If it was a game I really wanted to see I would record the game and watch it later that evening around 10:30-11:00. Of course, this meant that I could not watch any other TV program until the game was over or even surf the Internet because of accidentally finding out the score. At the same time, I could not turn on the TV too soon—fearing that the game would be still on.

 

On the night of the 11th I waited until 10:30 and watched the game.

 

Having recorded the game I had the luxury of fast-forwarding through commercials and time outs and I finished watching the game around 12:30.

 

11:30am Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001 in New York.

 

After I had finished watching the game I turned off the TV and turned on my computer to check my email. That was when I first had learned about what had happened. I immediately turned the TV back on to AFN (Armed Forces Network) and that was when the shock and horror of this tragedy finally caught up with me halfway around the world in Korea.

 

I just sat there in shock as I stared at the images of the towers, the smoke, the fire and the second plane being played over and over again.

 

This was not happening. This could not be happening.

 

Along with the shock I was feeling, I was also feeling so alone being so far away from home and not having anyone to talk to. I suppose I should have picked up the phone and called home, but I just was in so much shock glued to the front of the TV and seeing all those painful images that I could not. And that’s what I did I just kept on watching and watching.

 

When you are overseas and you hear about some natural disaster striking like a tornado or hurricane back home you feel bad and a sad but it would be the same feelings if I had had heard about a hurricane hitting say Texas or Louisiana and I was back home. You do feel something. You feel sad. You feel sorry for the people who lost loved ones or their homes.

 

What happened on 9-11 was something that I just could not comprehend being halfway around the world. It was just something I was watching on TV and not having anyone to talk to about or share in the grief.

 

How could this have happened?

 

Years before, in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh blew up in the federal building in Oklahoma City, I remember how shocked I was when I saw those images on TV and how I tried to comprehend the sheer tragedy of this event and the human loss.

 

This just does not happen in America.

 

I stayed up as late as I could—I know I couldn’t have slept if I wanted to—and watched the latest reports coming out of New York. The next day I had to go into work and interview new students for the coming semester. If I felt strange having to interview new students to evaluate their language skills—especially after what I had been watching on TV—and still in shock, the students I interviewed also felt the same way.

 

Almost all the students I talked to expressed their shock and sorrow. However, not everyone felt the same way. One of my colleagues told me that one of the students she interviewed told her that America had it coming. If that had been me, I know I would have walked right out of that interview.

 

That night I flew down to Kunsan Air Base (about one hour south of Seoul) as planned. All the US military bases in Korea were on alert and locked down—meaning no civilian employees other than DOD (Department of Defense) employees and their families were allowed on base. After all, no one at this time, at least here in Korea knew if America was under a large-scale attack and that bases and embassies around the world were also being targeted.

 

On September 13, 2001 I was probably the only civilian allowed on a US military base in Korea (approval had to go all the way up to the Commander for U.S. Forces Korea) for me to conduct my interview with three female F-16 fighter pilots as well as another story on how some Korean ancestral graves/burial mounds on the base had been preserved. It was only then, that I could finally be around some fellow Americans and share in the grief I had been feeling for the past two days. That’s what I really needed more than anything else then—to just tell someone how bad I felt about what had happened. And it helped.

 

We were all devastatingly affected by 9-11 no matter where we were at on that tragic day in September. We will always remember where we were and what we did on that morning and how life would never be the same again after that first plane hit the tower.

Buckacre — Country Rock from America’s Heartland

 

When I was a junior and senior at LaSalle-Peru Township High School 1974-1976 most of the kids hip to the local music scene were raving about this band called Buckacre.

 

A country rock band, Buckacre’s music was a cross between Poco and Buffalo Springfield with a bit of the Eagles and maybe a hint of The James Gang thrown in for good measure. From the way a lot of people were talking and raving about this band, including my best friend Chris Vasquez, they were going places—literally, because in 1976 they went to London to record the first of two albums for MCA with legendary producer Glyn Johns (he worked with bands from The Beatles and The Who to the Eagles and The Steve Miller Band).

 

Touted as the next Eagles, following the release of Morning Comes, the band returned to the States and began to tour in the southeast opening for such acts as The Outlaws and Jimmy Buffet and for awhile was the back up band for Hee Haw’s the Hager Brothers when the twin brothers performed concerts.

 

By the end of the 70s, the band like many bands had their differences about their musical direction and while on the road, the band split up.

 

In the fall of 1980, I met two former members of Buckacre—Dick Verucchi and Alan Thacker—who had formed The Jerks along with Dave Morgan (he had played bass for Buckacre right before the band broke up) and Al Schupp. A few months later I was roadying for the band and would continue to do so up until 1982. (Interestingly, their equipment truck had once belonged to The Outlaws.)

 

Other members of Buckacre, Les Lockridge and Dick Hally also returned to the Illinois Valley and formed their band Longshot; Darrel Data eventually relocated to Seattle. I always found it interesting and perhaps a little ironic that on more than one occasion when both bands were playing on Water Street at Friday’s Saloon and Murphy’s Tap on the same night, some of the guys would walk to the other bar, when the band was on break, and listen to the other band play.

 

I have to confess that I never really gave Buckacre a listen to until years later, when one day, in 1988 while I was browsing in a used record store in Burlington, Iowa I came across their two albums. I was too busy listening to other music at the time and you know how that goes—sometimes you just don’t listen to the music. I only have one track now “Love Never Lasts Forever” that gets a lot of playing time on my iPod. Sadly, it is the only track available on CD that can be found on Crossing Paths—music from the Illinois Valley. I highly recommend this CD.

 

In 1982, Dick Verucchi and I were sitting in his van outside Murphy’s Bar on Water Street in Peru, Illinois (it is no longer there; now it is the Waterfront Saloon) listening to this new group called The Blasters—who’s music could best be described as a blend of rockabilly, rock, punk rock and rhythm and blues.

 

“This could have been us Sparks,” Dick said as we listened to one of the songs. “Had we stayed together as Buckacre this might have been the music we could have been playing.”

 

Dick Verucchi is still “playing out” in the Illinois Valley in the band Wake The Sheep; Dick Hally and Al Schupp are also playing music with local bands.

 

Maybe it’s only another rock and roll story about a band briefly tasting fame and so close to breaking out, but it’s a little personal for me having known some of the band members and having worked for them.

Walking Tall — Prepubescent Angst

Something magical and special happened between the summer of sixth grade and seventh grade at Washington Grade School.

 

I kind of sensed something was happening in sixth grade and I think a lot of the other guys had a feeling something was happening too.

 

The girls were, well different. I swear some of them grew two-three inches over the summer and they looked older, more mature. Many of them were not the giggling, pigtailed girls we had last seen in the sixth grade. Some were even wearing a little makeup and lipstick. Many of these girls were not the same ones we had played “kick the can” and “tag” the previous school year.

 

These were young ladies.

 

Well, there was something going on hormonally and it was usually right around this time when parents sat their kids down and told them about the birds and the bees (whatever that was supposed to be). Yes, we all got a crash course on the facts of life.

 

Now keep in mind, with all this hormonal stuff going on inside our bodies as well as on the outside, it made for some awkward prepubescent moments—especially when the boys and girls got together for a social function, in this case Washington Grade School’s Halloween Dance.

 

By the time kids are in the seventh grade Trick or Treating has lost its allure but a Halloween Dance is something entirely different. If you were a seventh grader, it was a kind of coming-of-age party, a rite of passage. And I had every intention of making a lasting impression on my classmates.

 

The TV show Dark Shadows was quite popular with the vampire Barnabas Collins and I had also seen Dracula Has Risen From the Grave that previous summer, so I decided that I wanted to go as Dracula for the Halloween Dance. My Grandmother Miller made me this real cool black and orange cape, I used the vampire teeth that came with the Dark Shadows board game, and the landlady’s son Jody who was studying art helped with the ghoulish make up. I was definitely going to be the best vampire that ever set foot into Washington Grade School.

 

The gymnasium was decorated with lots of orange and black crepe paper streamers and pumpkins and other assorted Halloween decorations. Outside, in the lobby a table had been set up with refreshments and cookies. The music was courtesy of a vintage mono phonograph set up underneath one of the baskets.

 

We had to take off our shoes (I could just hear Coach Walters screaming at the chaperones if his gym floor was scuffed in the least bit way come Monday morning if we hadn’t removed our street shoes) and then we took our positions: boys on the visitor side and girls on the home side. The sweet fragrance of dime store perfume and Bazooka Joe bubble gum filled the air.

 

When you are in seventh and eighth grades you don’t want to dance at first and then you kind of want to hang back so the rest of the guys won’t think less of you. No one wants to be the first one to dance and despite numerous pleas from the chaperones, none of the guys wanted to dance.

 

“Go ahead and dance,” said Danny Chambers.

 

“I’m not going to be the first,” scoffed Mitch Durango.

 

“Don’t be a chicken,” laughed Brent Porter.

 

Someone would have to be sacrificed and that somebody was going to be me. I wasn’t the scrawniest kid in class but I was scrawny enough to be on the receiving end a good push from Fred Brown.

 

“Get out there and dance Miller!” said Brown giving me a good push.

 

And there I was, standing in the middle of no-man’s land which was actually center court underneath this orange crepe paper pumpkin and all the orange and black crepe paper streamers criss-crossing the gym. For a moment—which if I am not mistaken seemed to go on and on—I just stood there dumbfounded. People were shouting and laughing and everything seemed to be happening in slow motion.

 

Then I heard an Angel speak.

 

“Do you wanna dance?”

 

The Angel turned out to be Debbie Hansen. Well, not an Angel per se because Debbie Hansen was dressed up as Little Bo Peep and I must have seemed like some poor little lost sheep. Somehow, in all the confusion, shouting, and laughing I had wandered near a group of girls and Debbie, sensing the predicament I was in, came to my assistance or maybe she just felt sorry for me.

 

“Okay,” I said sheepishly.

 

And no sooner had Debbie and I started to dance, other students joined in to the delight of our chaperones who would be telling everyone on Monday how the dance was a great success.

 

Debbie and I had moved to center court and started dancing. It really wasn’t what you would call dancing for me. Debbie had some nice dance steps and moves that for a 12-year-old were quite awesome. She must have picked these moves up watching American Bandstand. I on the other hand, must have learned my moves from watching Herman Munster or the Frankenstein Monster because it felt like I was wearing heavy boots as I rocked back and forth.

 

I had never really noticed Debbie before, at least not up close and personal. We had become good friends in the sixth grade because our desks were next to each other. She always laughed at my jokes and was always really sweet and nice to me.

 

Maybe this was payback time because when it came time for a slow dance we held hands and she helped me to stop my rocking. We sort of swayed back and forth but it was definitely dancing. It was then that I got a whiff of her sweet dime store perfume and shampoo that made me dizzy and gaa-gaa at the same time.

 

But there was one small problem: Debbie was taller than me by a couple of inches and when we held hands and swayed back and forth my line of vision was right around her neckline. She had the most beautiful neckline and her shoulder-length hair made me think of Mary Tyler Moore for some reason.

 

Once I got that first dance out of the way, it got easier to dance with the other girls. In fact, after a few dances those Herman Munster dance steps disappeared and, after having watched some other kids dancing, I picked up some pretty good moves.

“You dance very well,” said Debbie Jones.

 

“Thank you,” I replied.

 

“Let’s dance again,” she said.

 

I really wanted to dance with Debbie again and I tried to look for her in the crowd of kids dancing around mid court.

 

“Okay,” I said. Debbie would have to wait.

 

At some point the dance turned into a competition between me and Jimmy Zens—a kid who fancied himself as something of a ladies man which when you are all of 12 years old is no small feat. Someone must have been keeping score because Jimmy and I were now competing with one another to see who could dance with the most girls.

 

In the end Jimmy beat me out but that was okay because by the end of the night I ended up dancing with Debbie not once, twice, or even three times but five times. We even danced two slow dances including the last one of the evening.

 

I don’t want to say that I had a thing for Debbie, but in bed that night I thought about Debbie and wished that I were taller. Yeah, I guess I did have a little crush on her. Damn that puberty after all. I didn’t care about my voice changing. I just wanted to be taller. I might have been too young to understand terms like “feeling a little self-conscious” and “low self-esteem” meant, but I kind of figured that they had something to do with puberty.

 

Then I remembered this advertisement I saw in the back of one of my comic books. I got out of bed and started searching through my comic book collection. I flipped through one comic book after another and then I found it.

 

Grow taller instantly.

 

That’s right. Grow tall instantly. For only $4.95 this company would send me the secrets and tips for how to increase my height.

 

It could be a month, maybe two, three—who knew how many months before I would be the same height as Debbie. However, this advertisement guaranteed a height increase instantly.

 

I asked my mom for an advance on my allowance. I had been in the doghouse as it were since the end of summer when my brother and I had gotten in trouble when we slept over Jim Black’s house. By Halloween my mom had softened up a little and advanced me a couple extra dollars.

 

Next I went to Arkins Drugstore (yes, the same Arkins as in Janie Arkins) to get a money order and then the post office.

 

Two weeks passed and then another and I still hadn’t received anything in the mail. Then it was Thanksgiving and still nothing from the company. Christmas vacation came and then Christmas and there was still nothing in the mail for me. I probably should have learned my lesson about responding to or ordering something from the back of a comic book or magazine after I was told my song A Groovy Chick in a Bikini would be a hit and “could you please send a couple hundred dollars?”

 

Maybe this would be different.

 

I was just about to write off that $4.95 as another comic book swindle when one day in January I finally received a small parcel. Even though I had pretty much forgotten about growing taller by then—Debbie in the meantime had started dating a much taller eighth grader—I was still curious to see what I was going to get for the money I paid.

 

I opened the parcel and inside was a letter thanking me for ordering their product—two wooden shoe lifts—that according to the letter would add 2 inches to my height.

 

Fortunately, as fate and puberty would have it, I wouldn’t have to worry about growing tall. By the end of that school year I had shot up a few inches and was one of the taller kids in my class. I was still scrawny, but at least I was standing taller.

 

© Jeffrey Miller 2008

 

The people who define me — One of my best friends & baseball, football, and political cohorts, Luke McQuade

Yeah Luke, this blog’s for you.


(And I swear you look like Alec Baldwin in this photo of you and your daughter!)


I have been blessed with a lot—especially the people I have met on this amazing, and sometimes strange journey through life—and although I don’t always get around to saying it, (and personally those people who have made a difference in my life) I couldn’t have made it this far without them, like my friend Luke McQuade.


Luke’s become a regular visitor to this blog and leaving some very thoughtful and insightful comments about some of my posts. I would expect nothing less from someone like Luke whose friendship is very dear to me.


I first met Luke back in 1985 when we were both starting Eureka College—Luke as a freshman and myself, a transfer student. We both lived in Gunzenhauser Hall, one of the oldest student dormitories on campus and would soon become roommates for one year.


What I remember most about that autumn at Eureka was Luke and I going over to his brother Kevin’s house every Sunday for dinner and Da Bears. Those were some special times watching the Bears during that championship season. Later, it would be the watching the Cubs as well as attending some Peoria Chiefs’ games.


That was really cool how I got to become very good friends with Luke as well as his brother Kevin when I was going to Eureka.


I have always respected and admired Luke for taking a stance and articulating what he believed in whether it was political or philosophical. Nowhere was this better illustrated than the time Luke hung a banner (actually a sheet) with “U.S. out of Nicaragua” from his dorm window. (Luke had gone to Nicaragua and done some volunteer work with the church group Witness for Peace.)


Hanging that banner outside his dorm window was a ballsy move on his part, especially given the fact that Eureka College was Ronald Reagan’s alma mater and Reagan just so happened to be President at the time and this whole Iran-Contra/Oliver North fiasco was going on.


That first year at Eureka, Luke and I were pretty tight as friends. In addition to being roommates we also worked in the Commons (the school cafeteria) and also were involved in theatre (more so our second year when That Scottish Tragedy was put on by the EC Theatre Department—definitely one of the highlights of my two years at Eureka). We hung out a lot during the summer between my first and second year at Eureka and the summer after I graduated I stayed around for most of it working in the cafeteria again and also helping Luke on the paint crew.


Luke got me that job and what I remember most about it was us working at night because it was so hot during the day. We had to prepare the rooms that were going to be painted by spackling any nail holes as well as covering up the moldings and the windows. We had a lot of time to talk and think about the future and everything that we wanted to do.


At times I think Luke thought of me as another older brother.


We went to Peoria Chief’s games, saw Galileo at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, went to a Cubs’ game (a field trip for the Class of 1987) and listened to a lot of rock and roll.


After I graduated from Eureka Luke and I stayed in touch, but we only got to see each other two times. I came back to Eureka only twice—once for Homecoming weekend in 1987 and in 1989 when Luke graduated (Kevin and I had gone to O’Hare to pick Luke up when he came back from England where he had studied for a year). And then I was off to Japan a few weeks later.


The last time I saw Luke was in the summer of 1990. He came down to the Illinois Valley for a few days. I showed him around the LaSalle-Peru-Oglesby area, took him to the Igloo for a “pork with the works” and finally we ended up going to the Oglesby Celebration Days where we saw Peter Noone (of Herman’s Hermits fame) in concert.


We’ve kept in touch on and off over the years—more off than on—and now, I feel that our friendship has come full circle. I know that as I rapidly approach 50 in one more month I am doing more to re-connect with people I haven’t stayed in touch with as much as I should have all these years. I am happy Luke and I are staying in touch more.

“As long as I have my Cokes and smokes….”

This is what this woman said to me on the Number Nine bus in Hamamatsu, Japan back in the fall of 1989.

 

I was on my way downtown when she got on the bus and sat down next to me.

 

She had only been in Japan for a few weeks and obviously—from the reference to Coca Cola and her favorite brand of cigarettes—she was settling in okay.

 

As long as I have my Cokes and smokes.

 

What she said that cold, gray autumn day nearly twenty years ago has stayed with me as a reminder of what it is really like about being an expat and some of the sacrifices we might have to make. I suppose that is true about anything we might miss about back home and how we can manage our lives and a decent quality of life while we are living and working overseas.

 

Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference. Stuff we might have even taken for granted at one time or another or things that we would just miss once we were overseas or that might cost more.

 

I remember before I went to Japan in 1989, my very good friend Kevin McQuade told me to bring a couple of jars of instant coffee with me because coffee was so expensive there. Before coming to Korea, I was told to make sure to bring stuff like underarm deodorant because it would be hard to find once I got here.

 

Life was definitely tougher here in 1990. Of course there was always the Black Market you could depend on when you missed some of those comforts from home.

 

We all need a little something to make living overseas easier. I think today expats in Korea, Japan, and Thailand have it a lot easier than we did say 10 or 15 years ago.

 

Perhaps now, some people might say as long as I have my Krispy Kreme and Café Latte from Starbucks I will be okay.

In dreams

Do you ever remember parts of dreams that you might have dreamt years and years ago?

 

Is it possible for certain images from dreams to remain long after you first had the dream?

 

Could these images, be subconscious snapshots of something we might have seen or experienced but somehow became part of a dream?

 

Last night, while I was lying in bed I was thinking about this and some dreams that I had long ago. That’s when I remembered this one dream I had about being in a small Midwestern town. The image I have of this dream has become a little fuzzy, but I can still make out some of the details like the buildings.

 

What I would like to know is why have I still retained this image of some dream I had many years ago?

 

What exactly is the significance?

Eureka, Baseball and Greek Town — Part 2

The next day, it was an early start for those of us heading to Chicago (I have recently gotten in touch with one of my former classmates who went to the Chicago that day, Tina Blisset). We left early enough to get to the city, park and make it to the entrance to Wrigley Field where Kevin was already waiting for us with our tickets. I have been to a few Cubs’ games, but there has to be something really cool and special to watch a game from the centerfield bleachers on your birthday.

On that day, the Cubs were playing the Reds and it was a rather historic occasion to be able to watch Pete Rose play in one of his last seasons.

Now the thing I liked about going to a ballgame with Kevin is that he is very vocal. He really gets into the game and loves to razz the players. When Red’s player Eddie Milner tried to score on a hard hit single by Rose and was thrown out at the plate, Kevin let Milner know about his base running when he went out to centerfield at the end of the inning. 

(Kevin, his brother Luke and I also went to some Peoria Chief’s games that summer and the following summer where we got to watch rising stars like Mark Grace, Joe Girardi, and Rafael Palmeiro play. And yes, we let the opposing players know how “well” they were playing.) 

The Cubs did not let me down (not to mention the rest of my birthday entourage) on my birthday by beating the Reds. 

If my memory serves me right, after the game we stopped off at this Punk/New Wave record store that was next door to the Metro, a music venue just up the street from Wrigley Field. (It was either this time I was in Chicago with Kevin or later that summer.)  

Anyway, there was this woman working there who I knew from SIU (I had gone out with her roommate Christine) and the year before, I had run into her at a Cure concert in Chicago that I had gone to with Chris Vasquez. Turns out her boyfriend had ditched her at the concert and she was feeling pretty bad. She had no ride back to Carbondale and no money.  

I had gotten a backstage pass from one of Chris’ friends and seeing her looking so sad and depressed I gave it to her. I figured she needed it more than I did. 

We were both surprised to see each other again and after we got caught up on what had happened the past few months, she told me that she ended up hanging out with the band on the road a for a few weeks before coming back to Chicago. 

“Thanks for that backstage pass,” she said. “You really saved me that night.” 

“I’m happy that everything worked out for you.” 

It did. She had eventually found her way back to Chicago and was getting her life back together. I wonder whatever happened to her? I wonder whatever happened to other people who I knew from SIU in the fall of 1983 like Savich? (He was the inspiration for Sexton, the main character in Going After Sexton, a short story I wrote for my Creative Writing Thesis at Western Illinois University.)

That’s been one of the more bittersweet underpinnings to my life, all those people walking in and out of my life; or was it me walking in and out of their lives? It seems the older I get, the more I think about this. 

And then it was off to Greek Town. 

Before Kevin had come to Eureka (the same year I started) he had taught speech and theatre at a performing arts school not far from Greek Town. He had been quite active in theatre in Chicago that included working on a play that starred Willem Dafoe (at Wisdom Street Bridge) as well as working on another production with one of Chicago’s more famous theatrical/artistic directors Robert Falls. (I saw Falls’ production of Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo starring Brian Dennehy at the Goodman Theatre later that year. What an unbelievable production!) 

Kevin recommended Diana’s, one of the more famous Greek eateries. How famous? Judging from the autographed photos of Anthony Quinn and other Greek notables who had eaten there, I guess it was quite famous.  It was also the first time I had Greek food (other than the gyros Chris Vasquez and I used to indulge in at Athens Gyros in the Peru Mall before it closed in the mid 80s) as well as Roditys Wine (as well as some shots of Ouzo that I had already had before).  

What I have always liked and admired about Kevin is how vivacious and jovial he is when he is out with friends. It’s hard not to smile or have a good time when Kevin is in the room, or in this case a Greek restaurant screaming “Oh Pa!” (similar to “cheers”) when the saganaki was lit and the flames from this flaming cheese dish nearly scorching the ceiling. 

I was really glad that I could get together with Kevin on my birthday. He would have a major influence on my life while I was at Eureka. 

It was just too bad we had to drive back to Eureka that night.

Eureka, Baseball and Greek Town — Part 1

There are a lot of cool things that a person could do to celebrate their birthday besides just getting hammered or having a party with all the trimmings. Sometimes, you might even end up doing something that you never imagined you would do.

I might not have had the chance to have a big birthday bash, but I have been fortunate to do some pretty cool stuff on my birthday with some people that I have been lucky enough to know on this long, strange journey through life. It’s the people who have defined me that have made everything worthwhile.

In less than two months I will be celebrating my fiftieth birthday. Sadly, I do not anticipate doing anything special for this “golden” birthday. With my Mom quite ill and being away from On and Bia, I have a lot more to worry and think about then what I will be doing come May 28. Although I might be having a rough go this second “tour” of Korea and my life—as I turn 50—kind of falling short of youthful dreams and aspirations, I have much to be thankful for, including some very special birthday memories. 

In May 1986 I had just finished my first year at Eureka College. It had been a bittersweet year, one marred by the tragic death of a close friend of mine in December, just a few days before the term ended. On the other hand, I became very good friends with Kevin McQuade an instructor at Eureka (Speech and Theatre) whose brother Luke was my roommate. I have been blessed throughout my life having known some very wonderful people and Kevin is right there at the top of the list.

I had decided to spend the summer at Eureka working in the cafeteria and making a little extra money as well as catching up on some much-required reading. My birthday that year was my “golden” birthday because I was going to turn 28 that year. It was Kevin who came up with the idea of meeting in Chicago (he was going to be in the city for a few days with his wife who worked for some small company) and taking in a Cubs’ game and having dinner in Greek Town. He would even spring for the tickets! I just had to get up to the city.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a car, (Eureka is about 150 miles southwest of Chicago) but one of my friends offered to drive. We would be joined by two of my classmates who were excited to take part in my birthday celebration in the Windy City.

The day before my birthday, I had to work in the school cafeteria. Although the cafeteria was closed until June when the college hosted a variety of summer camps, the food service operation at the college did a lot of catering events. On that day, it was a catering event for the Rotary Club, which was having a small fundraiser for the college. As it turned out, it would be one of the sweetest catering gigs that I did while I was at Eureka.

All that another classmate of mine, Sam Harrod (who was a direct descendant of one of the founding members of the college) and I had to do was load up a van with the food (steaks, potato salad, and baked beans) a half-barrel of beer, as well as plates utensils, and other implements of cutlery and then drive to Lake Bloomington a little over an hour away.  

Once there, we would set up everything and the members of the Rotary Club would do the cooking. After the event was over, we would bring everything back to the college, wash all the dishes and put whatever food was left back in the cooler. Like I said, it was a real sweet gig.

So, we get out to the lake, set up everything and then just waited along with the food service director. He was a pretty likable guy and really cool when it came to these events by letting us take it easy when there was nothing to do.

And that is exactly what we did. We were not just going to sit around waiting for everyone to eat their steaks and drink their beer. One of the Rotarians, who lived in one of the lakefront homes, had a boat and started taking other Rotarians for a quick cruise around the lake. With nothing for Sam and I to do, we were also invited along and got to enjoy some of the beer we had brought for the event.  

It’s a good thing we didn’t have to do anything else until the event was over because that beer was going down mighty smooth. Nothing beats some cool suds on a warm, late spring afternoon on a boat—well maybe—like some cool suds at a ballgame with a hot dog smothered with mustard, onions, and relish, but I would have to wait until the next day for that.

When we got back to the lodge where the night’s event was going to be held, a few of the Rotarians had already started to grill the steaks. There was still nothing for Sam and I to do, so we helped ourselves to some more beer and waited until everyone had their steaks. Then, Sam and I could eat and wash down those thick, juicy steaks with more beer.

Once everyone had finished eating, Sam and I proceeded to clean up everything and load it all back in the van to bring back to the college. We had to wait around for a while, but then it was back in the van and on the road back to Eureka. When we got back there, the food service director was really cool about what to do with a lot of the food and beer left over: he told us to take it. That was pretty cool I think.

While Sam and I were washing up the dishes and putting some stuff away, two of our classmates showed up. They knew it was my birthday the next day and wanted to take me out for a few drinks.

In Eureka, there were only two bars, the Chanticleer, which was actually a supper club at the north end of town, and the Outpost on the south side of town. Eureka was (and probably still is as far as I know) a “dry” town, which meant that alcohol, could not be sold within the city limits. However, Eureka’s tiny urban sprawl soon spread past these two watering holes putting them within the city limits. Thankfully, no one wanted to challenge the city ordinance and the two bars were allowed to flourish.

The Chanticleer was our preferred hangout, and that is where we headed. It was nice to get together with a few people (I even had a bit of crush on Kathryn White, one of my classmates who showed up that night) on the eve of my “golden birthday.” I have a lot of find memories of the two years that I was at Eureka College, and many of those memories were the times I spent with classmates and professors at the Chanticleer.

Paul Banging on the Wall & Other Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine — Part 2, “Return of the Fly”

Return of the Fly Poster

I got an email from my very good friend Paul Collin the other day. It’s been awhile since we last exchanged email and it was really good to hear from him. Although he was a bit pressed for time to write a longer email, (he promised he would write again soon) he did mention his band Rizing Tide’s MySpace profile (check it out). 

And then out of the blue, I thought about the movie Return of the Fly. 

So, what’s the connection? 

Now, if my memory serves me right (and I hope Paul will back me up on this) after I left SIU (after I briefly dropped out) in early 1981 I returned later that summer when I was working with The Jerks. Paul and his Freeman Hall roommate Mark had moved out and gotten an apartment not too far away. When Paul and Mark knew that I was in town, we hung out one afternoon and watched The Fly.

Now, here comes the part I am going to need some help with from Paul. The next time I came back was later that summer—with The Jerks—(for a few nights before heading down to Atlanta) and I stopped by to see Paul and Mark again, and this time the movie that was on was Return of the Fly.

Was it all just some weird coincidence, or what? 

Paul, a little help on this one. 

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