PATRICK MCVAY

WRITER

My Musings

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Who Lost My Bird?

Cockatiel-circa-1989

Every now and again, I like to examine some of the nuggets of memory I have of the last century, such as the days when I lived in a rooming house (okay, an apartment) in Brighton, MA with a bunch of other newly minted college grads. Every month, we'd have to scrape together rent money, and if we didn't pay on time our landlords would come to our apartment with thugs to beat us mercilessly. 

My apartment mates were some of the genuine good guys of the 1980s. There was Guillermo, who came from New York City and had played baseball at Brandeis. There was Ted, who convinced his parents to let him attend the University of Hawaii. (The University of Hawaii! Why hadn't I thought of that?) Ted rode a Harley and famously left it with a custom paint shop, which held onto the bike from January (off season) well into the summer (peak season). It wasn't easy to anger Ted, and this was about as close as I had ever seen to him being genuinely ticked off.

Then there was Huatsu.

As far as I can intermingle confirmable facts with my memory of the 1980s, Huatsu came to us when Brian, one of the original four tenants, got engaged and moved out. I don't remember much about Brian except that he wore slippers in the apartment and slid along the floor when moving from room to room, which I found mildly irritating. Brian's departure caused Guillermo to vacate the smallest room in the apartment and move into the largest, leaving the smallest room to our new apartment-mate, Huatsu.

I have all kinds of fond memories of that pre-cellphone and pre-GPS era, when the back seats of cars contained spiral-bound regional maps showing every street in metro Boston, which were indispensable for getting you to a keg party in an unfamiliar neighborhood. One memory I have was of a keg party that we threw in our Murdock Street digs. Huatsu, from Taiwan, had quickly and seamlessly integrated himself into our group and was far more popular among my college friends than I was. While we Americans went out and got potato chips and Doritos for our tipsy guests, Huatsu drove into Chinatown in his cranky little deathtrap of car and returned with things like crunchy bits of dried octopus, and preserved duck eggs. Whut? The duck eggs – dark, translucent, gelatinous – were like something from another universe, odder than sushi, which to my mind was off limits. (A writer for the then-Boston Phoenix said to me one day, "Pat, we Irish may not be the smartest people in the world, but we know enough to cook our fucking fish.") Odder still, when I finally mustered up the courage to take a bite of one of the preserved duck eggs, it tasted not unlike your average hard-boiled hen egg.

But I may be wrong about this, as it turns out that my memory of that era isn't perfect.

In 1991 I had near-death experience when a window blew out of an apartment in Allston during the run-up to Hurricane Bob's arrival and struck my calf, nearly shearing my lower leg clear off the rest of me and creating a harrowing, bloody mess on the street. I had already decided not to sign another lease for the Murdock Street apartment so that my girlfriend and I could backpack around Europe, and now that trip was canceled and we were homeless. A friend told a colleague about our plight and this woman kindly offered us an apartment to use while I recuperated. These facts are indisputable. However, I recall very clearly that when friends kindly gathered to move us from Murdock Street, Huatsu was among the helpers. And, further, that he had brought one of the last of my possessions down to his car to transport to the new apartment – my cockatiel, whose name I cannot remember. Little did Huatsu know that the top of the birdcage had been removed so that the bird could fly around the apartment and poop wherever he pleased. My lasting memory is of the cockatiel discovering the sky above, and flying straight up into the sunlit afternoon, where no doubt he was destined to become a snack for a local raptor.

Huatsu recently contacted me, decades after we had parted ways, and when we dug into our past it turns out that he probably didn't help with that move. He had spoken to his wife and confirmed that he had moved out of the Murdock Street apartment by 1989, two years before Hurricane Bob. For him to have helped would have required someone to contact him. Remember, this was pre-cellphone, and mostly pre-email. He had left our apartment when his wife and son joined him from Taiwan, at which point he disappeared into another world, as we all tend to do. If I know my friends from that era, no one would have had his contact information.

Huatsu doesn't remember helping and doesn't remember the bird flying up and away with a piercing whistle of excitement. My friend Dave, known at the time as "Chowder," doesn't remember Huatsu being there either. It seems that some other friend had brought down the cockatiel – maybe Ted, or someone else entirely.

No doubt I have forgotten much more about that era than I remember, but it's dismaying to have had such a clear memory for so long about something that turns out to be inaccurate. What other inaccurate memories do I possess? How do I figure into other people's inaccurate memories? Maybe people from high school recall me as a tremendous student-athlete who could dead-lift huge weights. Despite the facts, I may never shake from my memory the sight of my forlorn-looking friend Huatsu staring up into the afternoon sky, watching as my pet bird whistles excitedly before disappearing over the trees, never to be seen again. 

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Welcome The Umlauts

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I'm thinking of rounding up the boys and reviving the old rock band thing one last time before it's too late. We could reprise our versions of Cheap Trick's "Surrender" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" – our terrible versions of those songs – which we had played at the New York State Fair, circa 1978, in a "talent show" judged by a man named Allen A. Allen. To be honest, I don't know if the judge's name was spelled Allan A. Allan, or Allen A. Allen, or whatever. The only thing I know for sure is that not a lot of talent was on stage that day.

At the time our group was named "The Krash," a misspelling that we hoped would lend us a tiny bit of rock cred, enabling us stand out in the crowded world of teenage garage bands. By eliminating letters or swapping out one for another that is phonetically similar, we were following in the footstep of our heroes "The Beatles" and "Led Zeppelin." ("Def Leppard," which had formed a year earlier, wasn't particularly influential in our naming decision.)

Other bands went farther with "alternative lettering" by borrowing an umlaut or two from Germanic languages and placing them helter-skelter over whichever letter they thought looked cool, as Mötley Crüe did in the early 80s. "Spin̈al Tap" did those bands one better by putting the umlaut over the N. How cool would it have been if we had put the umlaut over the R, so we would become The Kr̈ash?! Alas, we didn't have a good enough sense for humor for that. (Double alas: the umlauts over the n and r are barely noticeable! The creators of the text editor that I'm using in this blog apparently didn't foresee the need to give bloggers the option of sticking umlauts over random consonants.)  

Soon, we jettisoned the name The Krash as well as my friend Pete's younger brother Tommy, our singer, for a guy we met in high school a few months later. Then we added a guitarist, then Pete's older brother Rob, and finally settled on five of us with the name "Eclipse," which included my old buddy Johnny G., who occasionally made use of a beach towel on his fret hand to assuage the sting of callouses.

We were pretty bad, me in particular. I was an expert at hitting the drum skins hard and often, but keeping a steady beat was a challenge. "You're speeding up!" was a common refrain from Pete. Didn't sound that way to me. Everyone else was slowing down. It never really mattered that we were not particularly good. Kids showed up at our shows anyway because we were loud and had flash pods that blinded them for several seconds at a time. We got paid for this, and now and again I was asked to sign autographs and had girls I didn't know calling me on the family phone.

Now that my drums are set up in the basement again, I'm working on keeping a steady beat in case the lads want to pull out the old leather jackets and start screaming into microphones again. Gotta admit, it would be a nice change of pace. 

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My Tools

When I die, I’m going to leave a lot of tools behind, and I’m worried that you’re going to use them inappropriately and hurt yourself. Despite their colorful outer shells that draw you in for a closer look and beckon you to plug them in and give them a whirl, they aren’t toys. Several of them can easily cut off a limb, put out an eye, or burn you badly.

My guess is that this won’t dissuade my friends from engaging in a melee after my untimely demise. The tear-streaked faces of my wife and kids, still shocked that I’m no longer here on earth and pretty certain I’m not anywhere else either, watch in disbelief as you guys come waltzing into my basement with a twelve pack and start grabbing at my chop saw.

Then, during calling hours, a line forms leading up to the casket, where I can be found laid out with a weird smile on my face, thanks to the misguided work of a new, young undertaker. You utter a few polite remarks to my family and hope to move on, but find that the greeting line is backed up thanks to an octogenarian who has knelt to pray over my dead body and then can’t get back up onto his feet. It’s awkward to be standing there and not saying anything more than “He was a great guy. Really, great guy.” So eventually you blurt, “So, uh, how many battery packs does his impact driver have?”

My personal opinion is that the family should just put everything out on the sidewalk and see who takes what. Bar clamps, pipe clamps, drills, levels, hammers, wrenches, torches, anything that wasn’t put into my personal pyramid in case I need it for the afterlife is sitting out there for the taking.

Of course, no duct tape will be left for the taking, as that is going to be part of my afterlife “tool kit.” But don’t worry – they carry it at most hardware stores. 

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Ghosts of St. Patrick's Day Past

In the not-so distant yesteryear, when I wasn’t so much a wee lad as an underdeveloped adult, I’d find a random St. Paddy’s Day falling on a weekend and would drive home to meet mom and Dad at Coleman’s Irish Pub in Syracuse, NY. Syracuse wasn’t a town known for being Irish, at least in my mind; everyone I knew seemed to be Italian, and the people who weren’t (like me) wanted to be Italian (like me!).

But to hell with any other tradition on March 17th. Friends of all stripes were keen to pack the bars and throw up all over each other. Slight exaggeration. Still, it was a pretty tipsy scene, and there was often an earnest singer crooning “Danny Boy” on a cheap PA system, enjoying his once-a-year day in the sun. And outside Coleman's, the traffic light had the green on top and red on the bottom, blowing people's minds. 

At home, someone (not me) would put “The Irish Rovers” on the record player and we’d sing along to songs like “No, Nay, Never,” which the Dropkick Murphy’s reprised a few decades later. Later my Dad would fall asleep with a toothpick in his mouth (substituting for a cigarette) to John Gary crooning the very sad “Molly Malone” on our console record player.

Years later, when we kids were out of the house, my parents would throw wild parties where everyone would strip naked and drink Irish coffee, because that was life in the 1970s and 1980s. OK, no one ever stripped naked thankfully, but the Irish coffees flowed like coffee. Thankfully, most everyone was walking home (although, I’ve recently read it’s better not to be tipsy when walking).

All these years later, I find the old John Gary “A little bit of heaven” album still intact in my basement, deeply scratched, bearing my long deceased parents’ fingerprints, and coaxing me to YouTube to relisten to the old songs. Hard not to miss mom and dad on this St. Patrick’s Day. 

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J'Biden Era Haikuage

 

People's Arms. That's right!

200 million shots

In 100 days

 

We are good people

But we still have far to go

Repair. Restore. Heal.

 

There's nothing new here

The Affordable Care Act

We're restoring it 

 

America's Day

Democracy is fragile

The world is watching 

 

Strategy is based

On Science, not politics

Truth, not denial

 

 

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