Maryland Avenue, a memory lane on the East Side

Maryland Avenue, one segment of which starts at White Bear Avenue and heads east to Lake Como, would seem like a road I would rarely encounter, since I lived in Lake Elmo when I started driving, but when I took the White Bear Avenue exit north from 94 today, and drove up to Maryland, I was surprised at the memories it inspired.

To start with, when I was very young, we lived in some apartments on the southeast corner of 94 and Ruth Street. My folks would take us to the Sky Blue Waters restaurant on the southwest corner of 94 and White Bear Ave. It was a small mom and pop joint. The mom was the waitress, the dad the cook, and there was often a little kid, on his hands and knees in the hallway to the kitchen, driving toy trucks and cars, making vroom sounds as he did so. My brother and I invariably receieved a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup, and a glass of milk. That area is now covered with a strip mall, and I wonder whatever became of that family. I imagine there is now a man in his 50s somewhere out there who’s parents owned the Sky Blue Waters.

Going from the Sky Blue Waters former site and turning left to go north on White Bear Avenue, a quick glance to the right reveals the house where on one winter day in 1976 or 1977, a teenager tried to sell me a ‘Gibson Les Paul’ with a bolt-on neck. He never believed me that real Les Pauls only have set necks, but now I wonder why I hassled the poor deluded guy since I wasn’t going to buy his worthless fake no matter what the price.

Going north on White Bear, I note that somewhere between Minnehaha and East 7th, used to be the Hazel Park Family Practice Clinic where I occasionally went in my youth, and a quaint little public library my mom took me to once.

I turn left onto Maryland and head towards The East Side. While there is a North St Paul, quite a bit to the east of The East Side, and a West and a South St Paul, next to each other south of St Paul, There is no city of East St Paul. There is, however the cultural notion of the East Side of St Paul, or for those in the know, simply The East Side. While there can be some debate as to where it begins on the east end, its western boundary is clearly 35E, and Maryland runs through the heart of it. I always considered it to have a high density of troublemakers, and my beloved car stereo was stolen on the East Side while I was visiting someone there in the late 70s.

Going east on Maryland, just after Johnson Parkway to the south, I see one of the original McDonald’s in the twin cities that my folks took us to many times in the 1960s. Across Maryland from that is a strip mall that housed a karate school I attended during law school. And just to the southwest of the McDonalds is the former site of the Phalen Park Shopping Center which housed the Sears Outlet store where my mom bought me my first suit for $40, and a number of shirts and ties for my first programming job in 1978.

Continuing east, I pass Arcade close to the location of a music/guitar store I frequented in my youth, and a house I painted for $200 during the summer of 1976. Then I cross Payne avenue, which once contained an almost legendary den of iniquity/bar called The Payne Reliever. It was much discussed and joked about by drinking-age classmates while I attended 916 Vo-Tech–particularly the fact that on certain nights it featured male strippers. I wasn’t drinking age at the time, and I never did get around to visiting the place once I was.

Crossing Arkwright, where a gal I dated lived, and just to the east of 35E, the apartment of another gal I dated while at 916. Just past 35E, to the south, once stood Plywood Minnesota, the first such store I later learned was owned by one Rudy Boshchwitz, of  senatorial fame. Back in the late 1970s, there weren’t giant hardware retailers like Menards around, and Plywood Minnesota was where I bought many 4 x 8 sheets of plywood, pl200 adhesive, and hex head bolts which I used to build speaker cabinets.

Going further east, Maryland ends at Lake Como, a couple of blocks from an apartment on Argyle Street where I lived in during my second year of law school. I passed many a summer day in 1984 walking around Lake Como and visiting the Zoo. I visited the zoo in the company of law school classmates as well, and one classmate, Eric, imagined he had struck up a friendship with a polar bear during prior visits. One beer fueled friday night, to our great amusement, he was unable to persuade the bear to show its special sign of recognition of him despite his increasingly desperate attempts to get its attention.

When I was in grade school, we only had the Como Park Zoo (with its beloved large turtle that we children could hitch a very leisurely ride on) and our teachers assigned us the task of writing legislators asking them to fund what ultimately became the New Zoo in Apple Valley. Well, being from a thrifty family, in my letter I wrote that the legislature should just invest  in the existing zoo instead of spending more on an entirely new one. The teacher found this disturbing and reported it to my parents. At that young age, I was already in trouble for inadequate followership in the service of The State. Though in the fullness of time, we learned that bondholders in the New Zoo, and its monorail ride, would have saved millions of dollars in investment losses had they heeded the advice of a third grader at Carver Elementary School in 1966.

Now Larpenteur Avenue, from Century Avenue to White Bear, as well as Century Avenue (AKA highway 120) itself, have another set of memories, but those are tales for another day.

Selling office supplies to angry women

Back during the Clinton administration, I had the pleasure of working for a supervisor who once blandly let me know that she hated men, but not me. Naturally this rankled a bit, and while commiserating with another man on the team (one of the funniest men I ever worked with), he related this story:

Some years ago he worked selling office supplies to corporations. He partnered with a woman who happened to be the junior salesman of the two. When doing cold calling, if the purchasing manager was a woman and they determined that she was a man-hater type, he would contrive to ‘accidentally’ spill his sample case on the floor. His female partner would then bark out something like “You clumsy oaf! Go to the car and get a new sample case!” Appearing suitably humiliated, he would gather up his stuff and rush out of the office.

By the time he apologetically returned from the car with a new sample case, his female partner would be closing the sale…

Aint No Grave

The first time I heard this on the car radio, it really put a hook in me. I did some reading and found that when Johnny Cash was near the end of his life, producer Rick Ruben set him up with a microphone in a living room sort of setting and recorded Cash, later adding minimal accompaniment. This traditional song from the Southern United States is a reflection on Judgement Day as described in the biblical Apocalypse of John, where the righteous, or saved, physically rise up from their graves in response to the angel Gabriel blowing his trumpet.

A close listen will reveal that Led Zeppelin, as they were wont to do, used the idea and some of the lyric as the basis for their anthem “In My Time of Dying”–which also put a hook in me the first time I heard Zeppelin play it at the Met Center in 1975.

I think one of Cash’s strengths as a singer was an honesty in his delivery, and that honesty powers this performance.

An ageless Torch Song from a young woman

When Jewel was dumped by the young man who took his coat off and stood in the rain, she doubtless felt it was a horrible low point in her life.  She couldn’t have known how that poignant moment, later immortalized in song, would transform her life into stardom–when at the age of 21, she entered a studio and recorded one of the finest Torch Songs of all time, Foolish Games.

Growing up in Alaska in a house without indoor plumbing, and later impoverished and living in a van while she travelled around earning money with street performances, she certainly paid her dues by the time she recorded her multi-platinum 1995 debut album Pieces of You. Foolish Games was released from it as a single in 1997, reached #2 on the charts, and remained on the charts for what was at the time a record 65 weeks.

Back in the day, I spent a non-trivial amount of time discussing the theory of pop music, with the late recording engineer/producer Steve Gurskey, and his view was that the singer and the song were the two most important elements in a great song–and this is a perfect exemplar of Steve’s view. Close miked for intimacy, with a spartan arrangement that highlights Jewel’s voice, the result is spellbinding. While youtube provides many nice live performances, I feel the studio version is the masterpiece and will feature that.


Memorial Day, 2012

I have already spoken of an acquaintance who’s combat weapon in vietnam was a sawed off shotgun. Now I would like to turn my attention to a couple of men who served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II.

Some years ago, I discovered that my next door neighbor was a World War II vet. I spoke to him about this and learned that he had been awarded a medal for bravery in combat while under fire on the beach of an island in the Pacific. With his assent, I brought my young sons to his house and explained to my sons what he had done and what an honor it was to meet such a man. I asked him to show them his medal, and he brought it out.

In an excess of modesty he remarked that he was simply too scared to retreat under withering Japanese fire. I thanked him and his fellow soldiers for their courageous service, and he responded that they were young, and scared, and he paused. I finished his sentence: “And you changed the world.”

On another occasion I learned that one of my Masonic Brothers had served as a sonar operator on a battleship–his job was to wear headphones and listen to microphones deployed in the water under the ship. He related that one night he thought he heard a Japanese Submarine. He raised the alarm and evasive measures were taken including dropping depth charges.

He noted that after the war was over, an examination of Japanese military records revealed that they had indeed sunk a Japanese submarine that night. I wonder how many American lives were saved  because he did his job well. I have always been struck by the kind of life and death responsibilities combat places on teenagers and men in the their early 20s, and how they rise to the challenge.

As always, I am in awe and gratitude to those who have served in combat and paid the price of our freedom. I feel it is incumbent on me to influence our politicians to avoid unnecessary war and reduce the number of our children who must pay the price for said freedom.