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Focus On Yodels


If you’ve been stalking me online, looking at my fallow “Linked In” profile to see if you might hire me into some phony position just so we can lunch together, or wondering why I don’t make better use of my Facebook account (a real writer would alert militants across the globe that he has a new blog post!), or seeking me out in the pages of “,” where I’m conspicuously absent, then I imagine you ultimately resorted to hitting up my classmates for access to the Bishop Grimes High School 1982 Yearbook in hopes of learning more about me.

Yearbook Picture

Looking at my entry, one is immediately drawn to the words "hocus pocus."  Is this some unsubtle indication that I fancied myself a magician, pulling rabbits out of hats and making girls blouses disintegrate in the middle of English class? Sorry, that wasn't me. The fact is I had a brief affection for a strange Euroband out of The Netherlands, called Focus. I loved Focus for the one or two days that happened to coincide exactly with the due date for providing the Powers That Were with something not too bawdy to print under my blown-dry head. I didn’t even know Focus, to tell you the truth, just their song Hocus Pocus.   Check it, from 1973 (when I was just in 3rd grade):



I’d love to know how much of that you got through. I’m guessing not all four minutes thirty-seven seconds. I hope you at least lasted through the first yodel. The song’s tempo is about 50% faster (wildly rough estimate) than the studio version, which is pretty fast to begin with. I’ve learned, from Wikipedia (so it must be true!), that Thijs van Leer, the singer and band’s founder, indeed of Amsterdam, was a classically trained organist and flautist. One thing for sure: he has incredible mouth control. If you watch the whole clip, you’ll see he plays a flute at breakneck speed and can whistle in an octave previously unknown to whistlers.

The Dutch: they inhabit the most surreal nooks at crannies of popular culture, with their "coffeeshops," phallic pillars that line sidewalks, and conviction that Heineken is worth drinking.

(And myriad other hocus pocus to focus on.)

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Blinded By The Light


When I was in 8th grade, I went to the local Catholic high school to see a band called 805. Not “Eight Hundred Five” or “Eight Zero Five” but “Eight O Five.” I had seen a couple of big rock concerts by then – the Doobie Brothers comes to mind – but this was the first loud rock band I had ever seen right up close.

805 gave me my first case of tinnitus, such that my ears rang for hours afterward and didn’t stop until I was fast asleep . But that isn’t even what was most memorable about the show; instead, it was the flash pods they used.

The band started with Emerson Lake and Palmer’s “Karn Evil 9,” a song which, until the time of this writing, I had always assumed was titled “Carnival Nine.” Sometime during the song, with the stage lights low, we teens were blinded by two huge explosions of light, and when we finally were able to see again, many seconds later, the singer was standing between flaming torches and had a boa constrictor around his neck.

Ha! That’s totally awesome! My friends and I, who were utterly sober, had just had our minds blown by this band thanks to the light show. A few years later, when I formed a rock band with friends, the flash pod effect became central, as we sought to blind our audience temporarily to blow their minds. Frankly, making them deaf for a few moments would have been more considerate, but that’s just my opinion.

How many bands have I seen since the 1970s and completely forgotten, while 805 remains a vivid memory? Probably hundreds.  Thanks to the internet, you too can see a little of 805, (and I encourage you to try finding them using some other search engine than Google).

Alas, I have found no video footage of the flames and boa constrictor.

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Hot Time, Camping In The City


My kids spent a week attending camp in town, where you can’t just abandon your car along the roadside for hours on end. The right to abandon your car and proceed on a bike is only extended to actual residents of that neighborhood. I work in Cambridge where you also can’t abandon your car without paying high fees or renting an apartment (also expensive). Go ahead and test my claim; you’ll likely get an expensive ticket for your trouble.

How, then, would I get my kids into their expensive summer day camp and proceed into the office, where I don’t have parking? The train, of course. The perfect solution!

As it turns out, the train is expensive as well. I live in “zone 1,” meaning the least distant from downtown Boston, which nevertheless costs $11.50 round trip. We embarked from the raised platform to enter the last car, where my kids had been taught during previous midday rides to get on the train. Once aboard, my six year old and I proceeded to chatter away, as a good Dad is meant to do with his young daughter, pointing out playgrounds and windblown piles of garbage as we passed through Roslindale and JP. Then came the conductor, who was less interested in seeing my expensive ticket than in alerting me that if we wanted to talk (as we were in the quiet car) we needed to leave and go into one of the loud cars. (Our meditating fellow riders thanked him wordlessly.)

The trips home were equally just so-so. 5:25 p.m. is the heart of rush hour and the crush of passengers meant we wouldn’t get a seat, especially when row after row of 3-seat benches were filled with pairs separated by an uninhabitable middle seat. We did find one car that was practically empty on our first day. “No air conditioning,” the conductor told us. Alas! We sat there anyway and sweltered.

On the up side, my kids were introduced to the concept of aging panhandlers, homeless youths, exiting only at the front and back of the train, and minding the gap.

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Summer 2014: Pre-Postmortem


I'm aware that there are still several weeks before summer officially ends, but let's face facts: emotionally, we have already entered fall. Time now to assess how 2014 ranks against New England summers of past memory. (I'd ask you to take a survey, but I'll bet you've taken 10 already today).

Can I tell you? It’s number one.

I’ll admit I don’t remember each one of my nearly 30 summers spent predominantly in New England, but come on, has there ever been a Boston summer with weather like this? There’s been so little humidity I’ve actually forgotten how gross it makes me feel. There were a few 90 degree days, but I spent most of them in Connecticut – still New England – where the coast was breezy and pleasant. Not quite enough rain falling regularly for the plants, but we did have a big soaking day or two of it before I went camping in New Hampshire (more New England!) in August, which helped replenished the groundwater and made the chance of starting a forest fire in the White Mountains extremely low.

Go ahead, complain: “It wasn’t hot enough.” Please! You’ll get your heat in years ahead, I’m told, enough to satisfy your craving.

I ask you now to join with me in a round of applause for The Summer of 2014! Thank you. Thank you very much.

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