Dear Readers: So, I’m going to use this blog to keep myself writing, short and long, on a regular basis. But, part of it is also about sharing published and unpublished “works” from the catalogue. Eventually I’ll post a piece or two from my past story collection (“Bothering the Coffee Drinkers”) and preview a piece or two from my upcoming story collection (“The Tenth Inning.”). And, in the meantime, here’s a little creative nonfiction piece I’m currently sending around to zines. Yes, that’s my son Jude with the frighteningly real wax version of the Chairman of the Board. Thanks for coming along for the ride, Doug Hoekstra
Luck Be a Lady (September 2011)
Part I – The Chairman
Over the summer, I was tooling around in the car listening to Frank Sinatra, savoring his Reprise records version of “The Way You Look Tonight.” Goosebumps rippled up and down my arm. The melody always touches something deep inside me, and puts me in a place where time stands still. It had been ages since I’d been able to listen to Sinatra. Yet, on this particular August day, the cascading notes and smooth delivery seduced me and for a second, I reconsidered the whole notion of romance and the possibilities it holds. The song only lasted for a few minutes, but that’s some kind of magic.
“Fly Me to the Moon” came on after that. “In other words….” Frank crooned, “hold my hand…” Sinatra floated along on top of the accents, repeating the “in other words” with different examples. It’s a list song, you know. My insightful son Jude broke my day dream and piped up from the back seat
“His girlfriend just doesn’t get it, does she? He keeps having to explain it…”
Ah, Jude…someday you’ll be a grown man…and you will come to know all that you don’t know. Just remember, there are no fools when it comes to dreams. And, sometimes dreams are encapsulated in a single moment, a perfect evening. When Frank sang, he was letting us in on this universal truth. I wish I knew this when I was your age.
Part II – Heading Home
The reason I dusted off the Chairman was because of our impending Las Vegas adventure. Usually when I write about Jude (not Frank), I fill the tales with heartwarming connections, educational milestones, and father and son bonding. Yet, in many ways, Vegas is the opposite of this – mindless spending, Big Replicas of Interesting Things, and disconnected people grasping for something. But, the reason we were going was to see Cirque du Solei Love Beatles Love at the Mirage, the only place it plays. There’s magic in Cirque shows; and magic in the Beatles music. And, magic in our adventures.
So, the same summer that I could listen to Sinatra again, Jude and I were flying back from a visit to the grandparents in Chicago. Jude had quickly beaten me in chess again, so I started to flip through the Southwest Airlines magazine and came across their 40 prizes in 40 days giveaway, to celebrate their 40th anniversary. One of the prizes was two nights at a fancy schmancy suite in the Mirage, tickets to the Dolphin habitat, enough food for the weekend, and tickets to a singing ventriloquist named Terry Fator. That would get us closer, I thought and I took a complimentary copy of the magazine with me.
When the day rolled around for the Mirage prize package, I entered online and checked it off my list. A few days later I got an e-mail. “Congratulations!” You are the lucky winner of Southwest Airlines Spirit magazine’s “40 Days of Prizes” with Mirage/Las Vegas.” I wasn’t that surprised really, because somehow, I figured it would happen. I told a few friends and they found it hard to believe; because no one wins those things. A national contest, no less, it must be rigged. Several told me what I already knew, that I was a lucky man. Sometimes you just gotta put it out there.
Jude and I had a great time; Love was something else and it’s always great to see masses of people singing my son’s name. Between Sir Paul and Love, it’s becoming an annual event. But, I have to admit that when we were walking through the lobby of the Mirage at 3 in the afternoon, I was reminded of all the dodgy suburban clubs I played back in Chicago, in my first band. Skinny and pale, we’d load in for soundcheck at 3 or 4 p.m., when it was bright and sunny out, only to be submerged in a perpetual underworld where the lights are dim, the air conditioning is on full blast, and the air is still stale as the beer from the night before. We’d check our instruments and without fail, about halfway through, the owner of the club would put down his Coke spoon long enough to step outside of his office, creep down the stairs and watch. When we were done, he’d shake our hands and it would take two days to get the aftershave smell off my fingernails. These clubs had the mark of organized crime all over them, although I was clueless at the time.
A few years later, in a better band, we played some “classier” joints. There was one venue in Chicago where we opened for folks like Edie Brickell and Arlo Guthrie. These were big gigs and well sought after, though we’d only play for half an hour and get $100.00, literally pulled out of a suitcase of money, resembling the sort of thing you see in crime caper movies. At this place, there was a guy named Gino who always “took care of us.” This meant he’d come get us in our dressing room and walk us through a long circuitous backway to the stage, just like in Spinal Tap. As we got ready, he’d get on a phone and call the soundboard. That was Gino’s job. He liked us though, because after a couple gigs he’d say “you guys can play 35 minutes.” We got an extra five minutes, that was our gift.
So, I had a sense that Vegas would be something like that, a place where it was always kind of dank and cold, with crazy times and the ever present feeling of something lurking, but in the end, all would be well, and that I’d get five minutes extra for being so good. We did all we set out to do; The Dolphin Habitat (Jude loved the baby swimming with his parent); Our Posh Hotel; Houdini Shops, Flamingos and Weird Street People Dressed as Elvis and Darth Vader; The Big Volcano that Erupts; A Peter Max Art Exhibit Exactly Where You Wouldn’t Expect It; Meeting the Guy who Directed the Beatles Cartoon Series; and Taking A Boatload of Campy Photos at The Wax Museum. There was Frank, in wax and be-bop hat, making sure lady luck doesn’t wander off to blow on some other guy’s dice. And, of course there was Love, which was like being inside a three-dimensional visual montage of the Beatles music. I saw things I never saw before and I heard things I’d never heard.
But, as great as that all was, I still kept waiting for that extra five minutes.
Finally, after all adventures had come to a close, our plane touched down in Nashville late on Labor Day. Jude held my hand as we quietly took the long walk from our gate down to the baggage claim, where he sat down on the edge of the conveyor belt. He still likes to watch the bags come down the chute, just like he did when he was little. But, now he daydreams, as well, which I love.
After a few minutes of this, he looked up at me.
“You know what Dad?”
“This is my favorite airport because when we’re here, we’re either leaving on an adventure, or heading home.”
I smiled and tousled his hair and held the moment as if encased in crystal. My son was spot on, and hearing him express his thoughts gave me much more than an extra five minutes
In other words, take my hand….