Thursday, October 19, 2017

Spirits and Scoundrels

DO YOU BELIEVE in ghosts? It doesn't matter. You can hang out with "Spirits and Scoundrels" this Saturday and next during the annual Woodland Cemetery ghost tours.

I'm hosting the 7 p.m. tours. They usually sell out, so I'd advise buying your tickets early. I got a sneak peak of the graves highlighted on this tour and there are some amazing stories. And, as usual, there are actors at several graves to tell the stories and give you a sense of the history of Quincy. 

I walk the cemetery every morning and I've never seen it in better shape. How the skeleton crew keeps up with all the work is beyond me, but they have done an incredible job.

The tours start at 5 and it will still be light. By 7 it won't be, so you might want to bring a flashlight and be ready for a spirit (or scoundrel) to appear. I actually think the tours done at night are a little more fun, and you can always come back and check it out on your own during the day.

See you Saturday night! I'm sure all the spirits and scoundrels will be glad to see you, too.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The best corner for conversation

Look at all the great conversation going on at Fifth and Maine!
OUR FRIEND JOE, a veteran musician and loyal Second String Music customer, just stopped by. We stood outside the front door and talked. He was playing for a band but he couldn't take the late nights, so he quit and now he's bummed.

"My idea of a good gig is playing in the afternoon in an ice cream parlor," he said, squinting hard into the low afternoon sun.

Joe was learning the pedal steel guitar. Now he isn't in a band and he is playing an instrument you don't hear much. It's too bad. It's an amazing instrument.

"I put all this time into it. It's like learning the Hittite language, and that's 4,000 years old and extinct," Joe said.

He asked if I still played. "Only in the afternoons, right?" he said. Well, no. Most of my gigs are at night. "Oh man," Joe said. "You ever get so tired you can't stay awake? Just eat jalapeno peppers."

What?

"Yeah, jalapenos, really hot ones," he said. "Coffee, soda, splashing water on your face, it doesn't work. Eat a jalapeno. And don't wash it down until you cry. It shocks your whole body. Try it. It works."

I started laughing, and one of the Outside People walked by, and looked at me like I was crazy. The whole irony thing hit me between the eyes and I laughed even harder.

Joe started walking up the street, our conversation over. "Man, I remember when I was young," he said. He kept walking. I was still smiling. And that was our Fifth and Maine conversation.

YCMIU in our little slice of heaven!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The ebb and flow of our Calftown hood

OUR BELOVED NEIGHBOR, Don Wilper, passed away last night. He was 88 and lived in the house next door for 60 years. We are sad for his children and friends, and we celebrate a life well-lived.

We bought our Calftown house in 2009 and made friends right away with Don. He was quiet and friendly and had a lot of great stories about the neighborhood. He kept to himself mostly, but we'd see him out on nice days and he liked to putter around the yard. Every year Sheryl trimmed the Rose of Sharon bushes his late wife planted along our fence many years ago, and we kept an eye on him, as did our other neighbors. He bragged that you couldn't kill those bushes even if you tried.

Don liked our dogs. That meant Sheryl liked Don, who would lean over the fence and greet our often excited canines and pet them.

We got to know his daughter, Donna, who lives in town and frequently checked on him. She would buy Sheryl wine for some small help she had given. We hardly saw Don in the last year as he grew less mobile. Donna said he was fine and just liked to "hibernate" when the weather turned colder. Sheryl would bring a bag of our fresh tomatoes to his door every Sunday, and Donna sent us a photo a few weeks ago of Don enjoying them for dinner.

There was another character who lived next to Don for many years. His name was Jim, and there are all kinds of stories about how competitive they were and how they tired to outdo each other. The garden wars were quite fierce with them and Don blamed one of his strokes on pulling out tomato plants one year. Jim passed away a few years ago, and one of my last memories of him was sitting with Don drinking coffee in the backyard. Two old friends, just watching the world go by.

Now a young couple with a toddler lives in Jim's old house. We wonder what will happen to Don's place, and we hope whoever buys it treats the house with the respect and love it deserves.

Ironically, Don's house just got a new roof, and the roofers were there again this morning working on the gutters, back porch area and garage. Don kept the house and the property in great shape.

We love our block. It's quiet and we keep an eye on each other. The neighborhood is about the people who live in the houses, not the actual buildings. But whoever buys Don's house is getting a beautiful, sturdy and historic Calftown dwelling, and it's a great place to live.

Farewell, Don. I'm sure you and Jim are up there and starting a contest to see who grows the biggest tomatoes. Sheryl will keep an eye on your wife's Rose of Sharon and we'll smile when remembering you puttering around the yard and garage.

And we'll count ourselves fortunate to get another neighbor like you.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Josh Houchins and the power of positive attitude

IF YOU TAKE anything away from the gut-wrenching sadness of losing Josh Houchins, take away this - he never complained, he always smiled, and his attitude never wavered.

You and I would be screwed if we were in a car wreck that killed our friend and left us in a wheelchair for the rest of our lives. Not Josh. To him, a wheelchair was a way to get around, not a reminder he lost the use of his legs.

Others knew him a lot better than I did. This tribute from Matt Schuckman of The Herald-Whig sums it up - he was everybody's friend, and you felt like you knew him.

Josh was a fixture on the local sports scene, mostly as a morning radio guy at WGEM. But I remember him most because he started at The Whig maybe 12 years ago as a part-time sports writer.

One night I was in there and he was typing in bowling scores. Man, did I give him a boatload of bleep. Then I got conned into doing the PA for a Quincy University volleyball game, and Josh was there, and wow did I get a boatload of bleep. "Bowling writer!" I'd say. "Volleyball announcer!" he'd say. And we'd both laugh.

Another night I was leaving the office, and Josh was getting into his van. I watched the process with interest - it wasn't easy, took about five minutes, and it looked like a giant pain in the ass. Josh just went with the flow and dealt with it, and I'm sure to him it was all part of driving and getting around.

A few years back I made a bet with a guy at the Whig, and I lost, and I had to sing "Hang On Sloopy" on Josh's radio show. Some hosts would roll their eyes and nix the idea. He and Broc Hampsmire not only let us do it, they encouraged it and fed into the ridiculousness, and it was really funny.

Josh had a connection with a ton of people because of his sports radio work and his willingness to talk about his life and disabilities. One night at The Whig somebody suggested he should be a stand up comedian. "I would, if I could stand up!" he said.

Farewell, Bowling Writer. You made a difference in this wretched world. You will be one of those guys we always remember. That's what happens, when you lose a friend.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Closed Saturday

IT'S TIN DUSTER weekend in Quincy. This is when classic cars come downtown starting Friday night and stay until Saturday at 5 pm.

We think it's a great event and we welcome all the Tin Dusters. We have a number of events downtown and this is one of the biggest and best.

A few weeks ago a man named Pumpkin (You Can't Make It Up) came in, said he was one of the organizers, and asked if we needed anything or had any concerns. We appreciated him coming into the store and assured him we were fine and wished the event nothing but the best.

Sheryl and I have decided to not open the store Saturday. Fifth and Maine will be congested and it will be very difficult to park anywhere close. Our loyal customers tell us they just don't want to deal with the clogged streets. As much as we appreciate the Tin Dusters, and as much as some businesses down here benefit, we don't see the benefit of being in an empty store all day.

It will be nice to have two days off in a row where neither of us is sick. In past years we haven't done much business, and we never get to take a Saturday off, so it will be nice to get some stuff done and enjoy a day away.

Closing the doors, especially on what is normally our busiest day of the retail week, is not something we take lightly. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and we hope they understand, and we'll be ready to rock and roll Monday morning.

So enjoy a beautiful fall weekend. If classic cars are you thing, downtown Quincy is the place to be!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

More than just a music store

SOME PEOPLE COME into Second String Music for a specific item. Some just like to browse. Others want to play with Fast Eddie and/or Angus the Young.

And others get life, mental health or nutrition for Type 1 diabetes advice.

This morning a man was in the store picking up some guitar stuff. He works for one of the big social agencies in Quincy and he's a good customer. He started talking to Sheryl about a foster care. She used to do foster care and said IF she ever did foster care again, "I would only want to focus on kids with Type I diabetes, since I have so much experience managing the disease."

He mentioned there was a client who has Type 1 diabetes, and Sheryl dove right in.

The agency nurses have a tough time dealing with his ups and downs. So Sheryl got out one of her Dr. Bernstein books, and gave it to him.

"Here. It's yours. Have the nurses read this and it will really, really help," she said. "If they have questions, I can help answer those. I have achieved an A1C of 5.5 with the help of Dr. B."

"You mean you are just giving this to me?" the man said, "I think my last A1C was 5.7, how is yours better than mine?" His doctor had told him an A1C of 5.7 was just fine for a Type II diabetic.

"YES," Sheryl said. "I have a whole stack of them. It's what I do. Have the nurses read it! You can read it too if you like." He left with a bewildered but interested look on his face.

So you can swing by Fifth and Maine for a change of strings and a change in your reading habits. It might lead to better nutrition, better test results, and you'll be a better player, too.

See? It all comes around to one thing - come to the music store, and you'll feel better!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Calling in sick

WHEN YOU OWN a small business and are self-employed, you do not get days off. You cannot get sick, or be late, or have life get in the way.

But it happens. Rarely, but it happens. After a nasty bout with the flu the past few days, I'm grateful for good health. Don't take it for granted, peeps.

I started feeling it Friday night. It crept up on me Saturday, smacked me Sunday, and I could barely stand yesterday morning. Sheryl rearranged my lesson schedule and took care of the store while I basically slept for 12 hours, off and on.

Early last night I felt it break. I started to sweat and I thought I was going to pass out. The next minute, I was fine. I'm still groggy and we might be doing a lot of slow songs in lessons today, but I've lived to tell about it.

In the 16 years I worked at The Whig, I think I had maybe three sick days. Two were because of a bad back, and one was from a bout with death. I never took more than one day off. I can't recall ever calling in sick in Alpena, either.

Sheryl is the same way. She's had medical issues, especially with her shoulder, but missed only a day or two in the store since we opened 6 1/2 years ago. I think it's because she's a Type 1 diabetic - she's careful about what she eats and stays far away from sick people. Being mindful of good health has helped her have good health.

So I am moving slowly today and things should pretty much be back to normal in another day or so. Meanwhile, our cat is chasing squirrels, the dogs are killing squirrels and the store hums right along, and hopefully it's another six years or so before I have to take another sick day.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Sick Day Blues

Rodney is home sick today. I have cancelled his early lessons and he plans on making it to his afternoon lessons after lots of dayquil and a hot shower this afternoon.... So I (Sheryl) get to recap our lazy weekend, which was fabulously full of doing nothing and playing with the dogs.

Yesterday Tucker surprised us all and caught/killed a squirrel in the back yard. Congratulations went all around for such a great team effort. All three dogs love to get into the action and contributed to the demise of the squirrel. Rodney got a photo of that on his phone but since he is home sick today, no photo. Poor Josie missed out on the action, she was in the neighbors yard stalking a different squirrel that needs killing.

Right after the KILL. Josie watched the whole thing.
Breathing watch, it was NOT breathing.
So this morning I am relaxing on the back porch drinking coffee and a commotion erupts by the fence. A squirrel thinks he can jump into the yard and tease all three dogs AND the cat. REALLY. No. It took about 3 seconds of chasing for Genie to pounce on the squirrel and throw it to the ground. Next comes Angus to grab it and shake the stuffin out of it. He threw it to the ground and then it flipped over... Nope, not good enough. Angus grabbed it again and shook it till it was truly DED. Dead this time. 

Of course, Tuckers job today was to dance around and bark. Then he took on the undertaker position of "watching the squirrel to make sure it was not breathing and really dead". He spent much time moving the body, touching the dead squirrel, and then rolling it over. I kept reassuring him that it was truly dead, good job boy!

Josie the cat got to watch this kill. She has been trying for weeks to figure out how to kill a squirrel. WEEKS. Today she witnessed what it would take for her to actually kill a squirrel and I think she took it very seriously.

So we are obviously quite proud of the dogs and cat for their efforts in ridding our streets of vermin and squirrels. Hopefully Josie the Huntress will let the dogs handle the big kills and keep our hood free of birds, locusts, crickets, spiders, and mice.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

I still hate press conferences



I HATED PRESS conferences as a reporter. You felt like you were being herded like sheep. It was a totally controlled and staged environment. I understood why they had to take place, and I dutifully arrived with my notebook, asked a few questions, got what I needed and got out as fast as I could.

There were different kinds of press conferences, of course. One was for an event, like a United Way goal announcement or breaking ground for a new building, or somebody running for office announcing he or she was going to to change the world.

If Quincy was a bigger market, I'd open my own PR firm and teach various organizations and businesses how to conduct press conferences, how to curry favor with the press, and how to react when the media approaches. It requires common sense, not a bunch of howling about fake news or #fakenews. You can't always steer the coverage, but you can build rapport and trust and it pays off in the long run.

The other kind of press conference is reactionary. An awful event took place, and the chief of police or fire chief didn't want to do a bunch of interviews. So the media was invited and the chief gave one statement, and we ran from there.

Two press conferences yesterday made me realize how much I don't miss them. One was in Carolina, when Panthers QB Cam Newton stuck his foot in his mouth and degraded a woman reporter. Grow the bleep up. Cam. I know it isn't easy being the face of the franchise and having to deal with all the questions all the time, but I have little sympathy for an immature brat of an athlete who doesn't get that women understand sports and can be reporters.

Last night Las Vegas law enforcement and FBI officials briefed the press on the latest developments in the Mandalay Bay domestic terrorist attack. Sheriff Joseph Lombardo was awesome, and you could tell the investigation, stress and lack of sleep are taking a toll. You can watch it here.

Toward the end, the sheriff and others grew tired of answering the same question and hearing the same questions asked in three different ways. I've been in these types of press conferences, and there are always two or three idiots who wreck it for us all with dumb questions. The sheriff knew who he was talking to and I guarantee he knows the bad reporters from the good. He was gracious and thanked them all at the end.

You have reporters covering a huge event and desperately trying for a scoop or anything new to boost ratings and readership. You have a sheriff who is at the breaking point and knows why he is there, and is trying his best, but I don't blame him for being short with some of the questions. He did a fantastic job.

We have a right to know. He has the right to conduct an investigation and say what he thinks needs to be said. The two sides collide all the time.

And there's nothing fake about either side.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Portugal The Man and band rentals

IT STARTED ABOUT 2:30 yesterday afternoon. Parents streamed into Second String Music to rent band instruments - cellos, violas, violins, trumpets, clarinets, more violins, flutes, more violins .... They were lined up three deep at the counter and we loved every minute of it.

It's not a really good day at the store unless a couple comes in wearing Portugal The Man shirts and tries out guitars. Yesterday was also about guitar picks. And ... we are big in Keokuk, apparently.

The only music store in Keokuk, Iowa, about 40 miles away, closed down not long ago. We had a woman come in looking for a guitar pack for her son's 13th birthday. Grandma was with her and she ended up buying a fabulous Luna ukulele. "We live in Keokuk. It's worth the drive to come here," she said.

That made us feel good. Throw in a doctor's appointment for Sheryl and my awesome as always guitar students, and we had ourselves a regular rock and roll day at Fifth and Maine.

Guess what? We are ready to do it again today, with another adventure awaiting about 70 miles away. Let's go!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Monday, October 2, 2017

No Sunday off

WE DIDN'T GET a "Sunday" yesterday. In our world, where we are at the store six days a week, a "Sunday" is a day off and a chance to recover from yet another busy week. Sheryl naps, I watch football - there have been some great games this season and nothing is better than a football nap on a Sunday afternoon. We might putter around the yard, I might walk the dogs more than once, and there might be a stogie and beverage or two disappearing.

Our pile isn't quite this big ... but my back thinks it is.
But in the end, we are good at doing nothing and preparing for another week in the wild adventure we call retail.

Yesterday we didn't get a chance to do nothing. Our good friend Nick Hopper is moving to Colorado soon, so I went to his house yesterday and got stocked up in firewood - he has tons of it after several trees came down from storms the past couple of years. Why is it I'm so sore and can't move after simply tossing pieces of wood into a truck, then into the yard, then into a pile?

Because I'm old and a dumbass, but that's besides the point. Now we have enough firewood to last a long time, and I appreciate Nick being so generous.

Then we went to Emily's Quincy Symphony Orchestra, and it was .... geesh. Words fail me. My daughter was stunning and left the Morrison Theater crowd in awe, and she got a standing ovation for her efforts. So I'm bragging, and I'm proud, and I have to say I am incredibly lucky to have such a talented and amazing daughter.

I'm not dreaming - that's actually my daughter!
Then we had a reception for her at a beautiful house on Maine Street, and the whole thing was like a dream.

A pain pill and more football last night helped put me to sleep. Then we woke up to hear about the Las Vegas shooting. So we are dragging a bit this morning, and getting ready to make it through another week of guitar lessons and school band instrument rentals.

Well. There's always next Sunday to recover....

Sheryl would like two, please....