Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Keep Gus Macker downtown

IF YOU WANT a fair and unbiased opinion about Gus Macker, stop reading. I am all about Gus, all the time. I have known Scott McNeal, the founder, for nearly 30 years. I have worked for him since 2004. I was the event manager this weekend in Quincy, and it was an exhausting but exhilarating weekend. Let's do it again!

Gus Macker works in Quincy because the Exchange Club does a fantastic job of organizing it. Washington Park is also the perfect hub for the tournament, and playing 3-on-3 basketball in the streets makes it more attractive for players and fans and gives it a really cool vibe.

However, this closes the streets for more than two days, on a busy holiday weekend, and there are some businesses in the square and downtown affected. Second String Music is open for the Gus Macker green room but never expects to do much business. We obviously love Gus Macker and are nuts enough to do this. Our regular customers couldn't reach us, there was no close parking and the streets are closed a solid block around us.

And that's OK. It's a part of being downtown. We deal with it three or four times a year.

After the tournament, we got some feedback about downtown not being a good location. There are some valid points being made. The District is getting more organized and becoming more vocal about downtown issues. They need to be addressed. Nothing changes without opening a conversation.

Here are few of my and Sheryl's thoughts on events downtown:

Do not move the Quincy Gus Macker to a parking lot. It will kill the tournament. I've worked hundreds of tournaments in six Midwest states. I can tell you the parking lot tournaments do not work, unless they are by a big stadium. Players hate them, parents hate them, and organizers like them at first because they are easier to manage, but they quickly realize the lack of shade and the bland environment are not good.

Moving the Quincy Gus Macker to the Quincy Mall is ludicrous, as is moving it to the Oakley Lindsay Center parking lot. Do you think the issues of crowd size, noise, lack of parking and trash will go away? It will double at those locations. The mall wouldn't be able to handle the crowds (everybody would come inside because there is no shade or cover from the rain), and hundreds of residents living within a few blocks of mall and OLC would throw fits.

One intriguing idea is to move it to Front Street by Clat Adams Park. This actually has merit. It might spark some new interest in a traditional event, and there is a lot of room, though you'd have to walk down a big hill after parking. You'd have to make sure the three restaurants down there are good with it, along with the Elks Lodge just up the hill from Chicks.

But anytime you move a tournament, you make changes, and people around here are hesitant when it comes to change. And the bottom line is that the Exchange Club would have to go along with it. This tournament won't work in Quincy any other way.

If we talk about moving Gus Macker, then I want to make sure we talk about moving the awful Dogwood Festival carnival (NOT the parade or the street party) from Fifth and Maine. We will gladly cancel "Carney Watch Happy Hour" the Friday they set up the rides.

Let's talk about a better location for the Tin Dusters event. That event is hit or miss for us at Second String Music, though it helps other downtown businesses. When you remove parking near any store, you remove customers.

Fifth street in particular seems to get closed down more often than other streets - parades, run/walk charity events, religious marches, tournaments, car shows, carnivals. You take the good with the bad when you have a business right at 5th & Maine.

When the streets don't close down, the park and downtown events seem to not bring any complaints from business owners. That is because their customers can still drive and park so that they don't feel inconvenienced by the event. Any event that uses the park like the Midsummer Arts Faire is awesome - the streets don't close, the park just actually gets used.

Gus Macker has worked in downtown Quincy for a long time, and I hope it stays in downtown Quincy for a lot longer.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

National anthems and stage fright

I'M DOING SOMETHING tomorrow I've never done before - lead the singing of the national anthem in front of people. I am honored to play at the Illinois Veterans Home Memorial Day event Friday morning, and I have to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" and "America The Beautiful."

We've all sung it a million times. We don't really think about it, we just stand up before the game starts and either sing along or hope it doesn't last too long. Now I'm thinking about, and it's starting to get intimidating.

I hate to say it, but our national anthem is an awful song. Do I start the song really low so I don't strain to reach the high parts later? Do I start it in the middle, then strangle my vocal chords later?

Ugh. I'd rather sing "O Canada" in French. Before you get your patriotic britches up in a bunch, I am a U.S. citizen and I love my country. "O Canada" is just easier to sing. So is Nikolia Volkoff's version of the Soviet national anthem. Get Don O'Brien of The Whig to sing it for you sometime.

But it's our national anthem so I will do my best and respect the song and the intent.

To me, the best versions of the song are simple and direct. Everybody seems to love Whitney Houston's rendition at the 1991 Super Bowl, but I thought it was overwrought. Then we learned she was lip-syncing. Not to besmirch the late Ms. Houston, but Milli Vanilli-ing our national anthem?

You can't hurry the song, but it needs to be sung in 90 seconds, not four minutes.

I'm scared I will forget the words, or butcher a phrase, or sing it out of key. So I reached out to the one person I know who does the song well, and doesn't try to overdo it. Sure, she is younger, prettier, has more talent and plays guitar better. Other than that, I'm not jealous of Liz Bentley at all.

"Don't mess up the words," she said, only half-joking. "That's the only song that still makes me nervous every time. I just make sure to run it through once or twice, then stop thinking about it until I do it. Otherwise, I overthink it. Good luck!"

It's not like I overthink or worry too much about stuff anyway. Oh uh. I just heard Sheryl roll her eyeballs into the back of her head. Again.

So I've been practicing. I will strum a G chord on the guitar, close my eyes, take a deep breath ... and probably topple off of the stage. "Oh, Canada..."

Nah. I'll just wing it and hope I don't screw it up.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Phones and customer service

AT SECOND STRING music, we not only help you with your musical needs, we also save your life. Especially if you lose your phone.

Yesterday afternoon a young man came into the store and fell in love with one of our awesome consignment items, an LTD EC 1000 guitar with Seymour Duncan pickups. He played it for a while and then headed out for the evening, but he left his phone behind.

I won't mention the young man's name, but his initials are Josh Lawless. The phone wasn't locked, so Sheryl looked up the last text message. It was from Matt Lawless, of Fielder and La Cosa Nostra fame and a Second String Music legend. Josh is an awesome player too, of course. He is one of those Lawless boyz.

Sheryl texted him and they were in the process of figuring out how to get the phone to Matt, who was out at the K of C playing volleyball, when Josh returned to the store just as we were leaving.

"I figured you were probably taking a bunch of naked selfies on it," he said to Sheryl. They laughed.

Let's face it - cell phones are the glue that holds our tenuous grip on reality together. I've misplaced mine a few times (fine, a bunch of times) and it's a sinking feeling. Josh even let Sheryl finish texting his brother to let him know we had found Josh. What trust.

So we were glad to save Josh's phone, and make sure the world kept spinning. We sell instruments, do maintenance and repair, and return lost items. All in a day's work at Fifth and Maine!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sheryl the Dog Whisperer

SHERYL MIGHT JUST have another calling in life - dog trainer.

Her sister, Stephanie, went out of town last week. That meant we got to take care of her rambunctious puppy, Loki. He is about four months old, an energetic Husky/pit bull mix. Since we have two other active dogs, Loki finally got to go on long runs twice a day and his feeding habits were moderated.

Is this my ornery puppy?
Sheryl spent a lot of time with Loki. First, he was taught not to snap at the leash when walking. Then he was drilled with basic commands like "sit" and "stay" and "no bite."

Sheryl patiently walked up and down our backyard sidewalk with Loki at her side. At first, he strained and pulled every step of the way. But he eventually learned to moderate his gait and walk with Sheryl, not against her.

It took a few days, but Loki started coming around. By the end of his stay, he was happily draping his dangling frame all over me on the couch and peacefully snuggling.

Angus and Tucker took care of Loki on our long walks, making sure he didn't wander too far away.

Loki went home yesterday. Stephanie can't believe her different dog. He is no longer wildly lunging and dragging her around when on the leash or tearing at her flesh with his sharp puppy teeth.

Loki still has a long way to go. I hope Stephanie takes our advice about walking her dog daily - responsible pet owners don't let their dogs languish. They need to run. Everybody is happier when they do.

Sheryl is now being called the Dog Whisperer. "You worked a miracle with my dog," Stephanie says.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Back working for Gus

IT'S TIME FOR one of our favorite weekends of the year - Memorial Day weekend, or Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball weekend.

Our Quincy Macker is one of the best. That's due to the Quincy Exchange Club running the show, and the key to any tournament is the local organizing committee.

Gus and I goofing around. Imagine that!
I worked for Gus for seven years traveling the Midwest and doing tournaments. This year I'm back on the national staff for a few more, including this weekend as event manager. It's not that hard of a job - putting out a few fires and making sure the staff is happy. I will miss being part of the Dream Court, which I've done for a long time in Quincy, but it's still literally right outside our Fifth and Maine doors and we'll still have a blast.

The thing I've learned about working for Gus is that you are in a marathon, not a sprint, and you can't let a few issues dictate your experience. Sheryl says I overthink things anyway, so we'll be prepared but we'll just go with the flow and hopefully everybody behaves.

Greg Johnson, who used to work for the Grand Rapids press and is an excellent writer, called me last week to do a piece for the Macker website. It got posted today, go about halfway down on the left side to read the story.

You know where to find me this weekend. Let the hoops insanity begin!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Broken coffee cups and beer mugs

LIFE IS LIKE a busted coffee cup or beer mug - when it breaks, you mourn. Then you move on.

The other day Sheryl broke her treasured black coffee mug. "I bought it downtown, from somebody, some place, at some point, I think," she said. "It had the year 1918 on it?"

We are coffee hounds and we like our Keurigs. Yesterday morning Michael Mitchell of Bittersweet Confections made us coffee so strong and delicious that we stayed awake for four days. That would place us three days into the future, which means his coffee put us in a time warp, it was so good. So what we use to drink it matters.

More than 20 years ago, a youth hoops team I coached in Alpena gave me a mug with a bunch of ducks on it, and I still have it and love it. Mariann Barnard gifted me a Michigan coffee cup that rocks. I still have an Alpena News mug. Coffee cups do more than give us the gift of morning sanity - they are fabric of our lives, even ugly ceramic fabric.

So I feel Sheryl's pain. She on the prowl for another coffee mug, even though we have tons of them around.

Just a great photo of the dogs - before they knocked my beer over.
Stuff breaks. It happens. Last week Sheryl knocked over and destroyed my treasured CN Tower cocktail glass, which contained foreign currency and had been with me everywhere for 35 years. The other day the dogs crashed into a table by the fire pit and my beer mug went everywhere into pieces - and I lost a good Leinenkugel ale. Angus enjoyed that.

I've dropped and busted so many treasured cups, plates and family heirlooms that I have a "Don't Let Him Touch Anything" tattoo on my forehead. Or I should, anyway.

The point is, we can always replace coffee mugs, plates and beer steins and breakable stuff. Sure, we grow attached. But it isn't life or death.

If only I could train the dogs to get me a beverage after they knock it over .... instead of drinking what I've spilled.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

What's next for Fifth and Hampshire, 503 Maine?

NOW THAT THYME Square is moving up the street, the question is - what will go into the Fifth and Hampshire space?

I guarantee the building owners are already hard at work figuring it out. I know some downtown businesses that would benefit from a move to the corner. It has great traffic and the space isn't huge, but it's really cool.

Then there's 503 Maine, the far end of our first floor at Second String Music. It contains the original Mercantile Bank vault and has been remodeled several times since we bought the building. Our latest tenants didn't work out, and the space is open again.

Sheryl and I have different opinions. Since she's the mean old landlady, I can understand not wanting to deal with the hassle of renting it out. The key is to find somebody we know and/or trust. We'll be very careful with our next tenant.

We are thinking of expanding our space and using 505 Maine for a drum room, among other things.

I'd love to see a small coffee shop in there, one that is open in the afternoons and evenings. We have a couple of nice places already - I love the Mitchells and Bittersweet Confections, but I'm not sure we have the true coffee shop place down here. Plus they could use the sidewalk on nice days, or parachute baked good from the roof to promote the business. Sheryl is shuddering right now reading this.

Sheryl would probably drop everything and sell the building if it meant getting a Sonic at Fifth and Maine. A Subway or Jimmy John's would be cool, or something similar.

A nice cigar shop is a pipe dream of mine. What about a vinyl record store, could that fly downtown? We still have lots of cheap and interesting records in our two rooms here, but I'm not sure if it would work on its own, unless you sold record players and other accessories.

Any other ideas out there? I think downtown is the place to be, and we look forward to further growth and development.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Thyme Square stays downtown

WE ARE EXCITED and happy for Cory and Erica Shupe, who are moving Thyme Square Cafe up the street this summer.

Thyme Square has been at Fifth and Hampshire for about seven years. The owners and staff are all about locally-produced food, and their breakfasts and lunches are delicious.

These tables are usually full at 5th and Hampshire.
But the space wasn't enough. Have you ever been in there on a busy Saturday morning? The servers do a ballet through the crowds and deliver food to tables at close quarters. In a way it is quaint, but Thyme Square is doing something right and obviously needed more room for a long time.

You really wonder what will go in at Fifth and Hampshire. Knowing the owners of the building, it won't take long for something else to take over the 500 Hampshire - it's way too cool of a space.

A few weeks ago Talayna's in the 600 block of Hampshire closed. Of course the gloom and doomers flooded social media with the bad news about how Quincy is dying and downtown is dead and there are no good places to eat anymore. Blah blah blah double blah.

Turns out there was a plan all along. The Shupes have purchased the historic building and hope to be up and running at their new location by August. It's ideal for their business and now they'll have room to grow and serve even more of their amazing dishes.

We don't need a Red Lobster or another greasy fast food chain in Quincy. Today we learned Ruby Tuesday's is closing, and it's a shame because people are losing their jobs, but really, another chain on Broadway closing hardly makes me weep. And aren't you super excited about another McDonald's being built on Broadway? Right. Me neither. Three McDonald's on Broadway seems to be a bit of overkill ("kill" being the operative word according to Sheryl, who is very hateful about a third McDonald's. This town couldn't support a Sonic, three Sonics at one point, but they can support a third McDonald's?)

What we need are hard-working people like the Shupes who have vision and commitment, both to customers and downtown Quincy. We will both warn them and rejoice with them when it comes to buying an old building.

Owning your own business in a competitive environment isn't easy. We are thankful for Cory and Erica, and we'll continue to enjoy Thyme Square in downtown Quincy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hiding from dead moles

IF YOU OWN an active dog, walk the darned dog. You don't have a choice. Your life will not be nearly as good if you lay around like a blob and ignore the pleading face of your puppy. All the dog wants to do is run free.

And kill things.

Last Sunday we took Ziva, Cori Lyssy's pit bull and Husky mix, for an off-leash stroll at one of our favorite spots. Angus and Tucker were delighted to have a new friend and they romped around like old pals. Cori was terrified her dog would run off - silly, silly girl singer! Angus and Tucker both have herding instincts. Ziva learned very quickly the boundaries and how far she could wander off.

Cori's three curious kids and her husband, Benny, joined us. Tell me there's anything better than a family stroll and exploring history. The kids were really into it and bounced around almost as much as the dogs. And no PlayStation! Ain't no rotting your brains out on this safari, folks.

Near the end of our walk, Angus did what he does best - he furiously dug into the ground because he smelled a mole. Now, moles are the curse of grass and humanity in general. They are ugly little creatures and they do a lot of damage to lawns and green space. Bella (rest in peace) was very good at digging them up and snapping their necks quickly.

Bella digs out a mole .... Snap!
Angus digs and digs and digs and almost never catches moles, but every now and then he gets lucky. The problem is that he and Tucker prefer to play with their new toy, prolonging the mole's suffering and/or death.

Before all you PETA backers get too fired up, let me just say nature is both wonderful and cruel, and I hate moles, and you can protest all you want. Dogs are gonna be dogs. Lo and behold, Angus caught a mole Sunday, and he taught Ziva the finer art of picking it up and flinging it around.

Cori didn't handle it very well. It was like I told her we had to learn Enya or Dan Folgelberg songs or something - she started shaking and crying and she walked off holding her head in her hands. A tough gal from Texas couldn't handle a little bit of killing? Her precious little Ziva, a mole killer. Geesh, I thought Texans skinned animals alive and wore pelts and bragged about shooting things from great distances, as long as their cowboy hats didn't block their vision.

Ziva, of course, thought it was great. The mole lasted about five minutes until the dogs finally put it out of its and our misery. Nature took its course. And we moved on.

I am hoping we make this a Sunday tradition. I am hoping Cori realizes moles are bad and deserve every dog bite they get. Suck it up, buttercup, and get in touch with your inner Texan.

And walks, no matter how much death the dogs cause, are a beautiful thing.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The gift of music, and the surprise on Mother's Day

IT CAN BE difficult to purchase a musical instrument as a gift. Take the guitar, for example. We always encourage you to play a guitar before you by it. Roll the dice if you buy online - I will spare you the horror stories we hear almost on a daily basis from people taken to the cleaners and getting a piece of junk in the mail. (Don't get Sheryl started on the economics of sending your money out of your hometown!)

We at Second String Music encourage the purchase of music as a gift. And we'd like to tell you it's easy, fun and makes a lot of sense.

Here are two examples. Yesterday, a mom and dad were looking for a birthday present for their son. He has a starter acoustic-electric and wanted to upgrade. One pluck of a Breedlove guitar, and they were sold. They've just made a young man very happy and the experience was hassle-free.

Last week an older woman came in looking for a guitar. She's started playing again and wanted something with a pickup to use in her church services. She came in twice and finally decided on a gorgeous Luna guitar, and vowed to come back when she had the cash.

Well, her daughter found out about it and gave her contact info to Sheryl. She planned to come in once we knew exactly which guitar her mom wanted. The whole time her mother was looking, I knew the daughter and her family were purchasing the guitar. It is very difficult to keep this kind of secret but somehow we succeeded. Mother's Day was extra special - the mom had no idea we'd been working behind her back.

You can't go wrong giving the gift of music, especially with our help!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Open your mind to new (old) music

I GOT A phone call last Friday from an older woman complaining about our Concerts In The Plaza. "I don't know any of the songs," she said. "Can you get people to play songs that we know?"

She explained that she and her husband were 80-plus years old. The young man playing guitar and singing last week was quite good, but he was young and the songs were not familiar to her or her husband.

Well, you can get your money back if you aren't happy, I told her.

"But I didn't pay anything to get in," she said.


At least you can listen to the girl singer!
The woman was very polite and I appreciated her calling. I've helped arrange the acts for both the Plaza shows and the Midsummer Arts Faire. I'm also helping with getting some great acts for the wine event at Clat Adams Park in September, and I get calls all the time from people who want to know about local performers.

Since she was older, the woman simply wasn't open to new music and a different genre. And that is really, really sad.

Look. I'm not going to pay to see an overwrought girl - power lip-syncer - or some country "artist" who has somebody write all his songs for him and an army of musicians and stage techs to make him sound and look good. I would rather save my pennies for the next Who tour.

But if it's a free event and the weather is nice, why wouldn't you go at least check out a local performer, and give him or her a fair shake? Enjoy those talented young musicians!

Cori Lyssy and I are playing tomorrow at the Plaza and we are both really excited. Most of the stuff we play is recognizable, though it might take you a second or two. We love to play and we enjoy it when people enjoy our music. And if you don't, well, that's OK, too.

We try out best. And you can't beat the price, especially if you have an open mind.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Bluetooth and doing nothing

I AM VERY good at doing nothing. This is a fine skill honed over many years of ignoring household chores, bills and yardwork. There are many ways to do nothing, and I have done them all. Or not. It's the same thing.

This thing even works in the sink!
Last night I took the Art Of Doing Nothing to a whole new level. Sheryl and I purchased a small wireless speaker. She showed me how to use it last night, as it was a beautiful evening and I was sitting by the fire pit, doing nothing.

She explained that you can sync any device, like an iPod or phone, to the waterproof speaker.

"What does the sink have to do with anything?" I asked. "Except where I put the dishes and ignore them?"

Sheryl rolled her eyes. She has done this so many times that I'm afraid they will permanently get stuck above her eyelids. She pried her eyes back to focus and showed me how to sync my phone.

Apparently you use something called Bluetooth. I thought that was something you got from not brushing your teeth.

"First, go to 'Settings' on your phone. Then find the Bluetooth setting and sync it up using 'Plunge.' Then go to your music and click on it to start listening," Sheryl said.


"Give me your phone," she said.

Like she always does, Sheryl patiently walked me through it and took some aspirin to stop the pain from her eyes being in the back of her head. Soon I was outside by the fire with a beverage and a stogie, and looking at the music on my phone.

I listened to the U2 album they so thoughtfully gave me for free. Then I discovered The Tubes and "The Completion Backwards Principle," perhaps the greatest 1980s rock album ever made.

Then I hit something called "Shuffle" and a bunch of songs previously unplayed on my phone came to life. Who knew April Wine and Boston could sound so good, even though their teeth are blue?

Normally I sit outside and listen to a ballgame or whatever I can find. Now I'm going wireless, and taking the Art Of Doing Nothing to a whole new synced-up level.

Where the heck is my phone, anyway?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

G Dawg and tillers

THE LEGENDARY GREG Ellery came over this morning to borrow our tiller. He's doing a little landscaping around his house and needs to move some earth.

Or maybe he needs it for his play this weekend. He's starring in "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" at the Quincy Community Theatre and we have tickets for Saturday night. If Greg is in it, it's going to be good.

We are fortunate to have live theater and a passion for the arts in Quincy. There's nothing quite like it. There are cities five times our size that don't have nearly the quality of entertainment options like theater and live music.

Greg is one of the good guys around here. His sense of humor and timing are a bit different and twisted, which is even more reason to love the guy. And it might be why we are kindred soulmates, if not brothers from another mother.

If he shows up to the bonfire with cold PBR, you are in for a night of stories and laughter.

Perhaps we will see our tiller on the QCT stage this weekend. It wouldn't surprise me. Or maybe he's planting a shrubbery or grass. Who knows?

We love the G-Dawg and we encourage everybody to go see the play this weekend, and next weekend.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Sunday recovering

WE'VE HAD AN interesting last few days at Fifth and Maine. We will spare you the details. But let's just say that Mrs. Hart is not a pushover. If you say you will be here at a certain time, you need to be here at that time. The end.

Owning a small business is a huge challenge, as is owning a historic building and having tenants. Sheryl has also been substitute teaching, and for the most part she's really enjoyed it. She doesn't let the few stupid kids get to her, though she does have some great stories.

There is a reason we are still in business five years and counting. It has nothing to do with me. It's all about Sheryl - she runs this place and learned very quickly the ins and outs of retail and how to cater to the market.

There have been a few store customers who thought they could come in here and run her over. They found out very quickly that wasn't happening, and it never turned out well for them.

So it's all about how you handle the stress and getting angry at clueless people.

There are a lot of ways to do this. Some people jump up and down and raise their blood pressure, and solve nothing. Others tend to swallow it up until they explode.

Sheryl isn't shy about venting. It helps. So does her prescription Xanax.

"Having a clear vision of what the problem is and where the person you are angry with lacks makes dealing with your anger easier," she says. "Sometime you just have to call people on their BS in order to stop the madness.

"When you keep enabling a person, you build up resentment and anger with no actual relief."

Sheryl is slow to anger, but once she hits her limit - look out!

"Don't hold on to your anger," she says. "It will eat you alive. The only person that is hurt by that is yourself."

We spent a good Sunday doing yardwork and cleaning. Well, Sheryl cleaned - I watched and slept through a golf tournament and hockey game. We watched Tucker hide from the thunderstorms and just basically recovered from life. I also took a rare Saturday off and played golf with my old boss, Don Crim. I still can't play golf very well. But we had a blast.

I don't think weekends or days off are for recharging - I'm exhausted. But I feel great. Emily is visiting today and I just realized the summer schedule for gigs, Gus Macker and life itself is quickly filling up.

Letting it all out is a good thing!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Welcome home, Emily

IT'S WITH GREAT pride we announce that Emily Hart is returning and has a real job - she's baaaaaack!

Emily has accepted a position at Western Illinois University as Instructor of Oboe. She is taking over for her former teacher, Michael Ericson, who is retiring. She assumes her new duties in August.

Emily got her masters in oboe performance from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., one year ago. She's been living in Toronto since September and attending the Royal Observatory, working at a local music store and auditioning for jobs.

Emily had four great years at WIU and looks at this as a sort of homecoming. It will be awesome having her living just 70 miles away. She loves the teaching end of playing the oboe and I think she'll do well.

WIU went after her for the job, a humbling honor, for sure.

Can you tell we are just a little bit proud?

Hard to believe this was three years ago, WIU graduation. Prof. Ericson is at right.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Angus the bunny killer

WARNING: This blog contains graphic depictions of a baby bunny being killed. If you like bunnies, don't like bunnies who die, and don't like dogs that kill, go back to watching the morning talk shows. Thank you and don't say anything to PETA about this.

WE ARE LIVING with a murderer. His name is Angus The Young. He is small and has his mother's ferocious Corgi temperament, and his Cattle Dog father's good looks. Don't be fooled by his cute heine, his crazed half smile, or the way one ear stays up and the other folds down. Angus The Young is a stone cold, remorseless and crazed killer.

It started a few weeks ago when mama bunny had baby bunnies under our back porch. We sealed it off and scolded Angus for trying to break into the bunny nest. Let her and the bunnies be, we said.

No problem, Angus said. I swear his eyes turned blood red and his head turned all the way around when he agreed, but I could be mistaken.

The little bunnies got a little older and soon began hopping around the yard. We found one dead by the garden, mangled really. Disposing of that was retched.

Mommy bunny and sibling bunnies continued to bounce under our back shed area and wander aimlessly around the yard.

Another bunny was found bloodied a few days later. No suspects around but two happy go lucky dogs were happily dancing around it. Strange.

Then, yesterday morning, it happened. Sheryl was getting ready for her high school sub assignment. She looked out the backyard and saw both Angus and Tucker jumping around and poking at something in the grass. She walked up to the dogs, and then she heard a sound.

"It was a baby bunny. I heard an 'EEP' so I knew they had him," Sheryl said, lifting her black veil so I could see the anguish on her face.

Was it dead right away?

"Well, I saw it blink a few times," Sheryl said.

I was instructed to check on the crime scene after she left for school. I did. The bunny was dead. Angus and Tucker were quite proud, standing over the little bunny as if to show me their handiwork. "This is just like when Bella used to kill moles on our cemetery walks," Tucker said, tongue lolling and eyes squinting in the morning sun.

"I did it," Angus said, sniffing the air to make sure there weren't any other bunnies in the yard. "I am a proud Cowboy Corgi. Killerz. Tucker helped."

Part of this is really sad. Here is an innocent baby rabbit, trying to make it's way in the world, waking up after a long night's sleep, only to find himself in a fight for his life. Quickly dispatched.

Then there's the dogs, who simply think baby bunnies are play toys. Really, they don't have any idea the bunny has feelings, or that their teeth penetrating soft bunny skin is fatal, or that baby bunnies can't play after they are dead. Sheryl didn't see any baby bunnies in our backyard when she let the dogs outside. The bunny was there, the dogs were there, and the results weren't pretty.

"Can I have a treat now?" Angus finally said.

I just hope PETA doesn't show up with signs demanding bunny justice and that Angus serve time. If so, I will sue the Bunny Union for trespassing and unlawful birth of baby bunnies on our property.

It's just dogs being dogs, the cycle of life, and another morning of mayhem in Calftown.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

I'll work with Kristy or Kelly or whatever her name is

EVERY NOW AND then when we are getting ready for the day, Sheryl flips on the TV  and garish talk shows are on. This is at about 9 a.m. I pay no attention to them because I don't care about Kardashibles or Bouncy being canceled in Nashville. And anybody who actually watches something called a Steve Wilkos needs to be drenched in acid until they cheer up.

A few weeks ago a host of one of the shows got mad because the male host decided to leave. I saw some snippets on Facebook and online, so it must be true. I think the woman's name is Kristy or Kelly, and I think the guy who is leaving is Michael Strahan. Wait a second, isn't he a defensive lineman with the Giants? What? He retired several years ago?

I had no idea.

I will take your place, Michael. Who do you work with, again?
Anyway, Kristy/Kelly is mad because she wasn't told Michael was leaving. Surely she should be told first and she shouldn't learn about it on social media! Sounds like Kelly/Kristy used to be in soap opera, if you ask me.

Wait. She was in a soap opera? I had no idea.

Supposedly Kristy/Kelly was so mad she didn't show up for work for a few days. Wow. I should have tried this during my working days, back when I had a real job. It would have made that 24-year career a lot shorter, that's for sure. But if Kristy/Kelly takes a few "sick days," it endears her to her legions of fans.

Kelly/Kristy threw a little fit, but she came back and she and Michael are now best buds, and now they are looking for a new male host, since Michael is leaving now instead of September. I'd leave now, too.

Look no further for a male host, Kristy/Kelly. I'm available.

It makes sense because you'd only have to pay me millions, not kazillions like Kristy/Kelly and Michael make. But we'd have to relocate to Quincy and refurbish our third floor of the Second String Music building for the new show studio. It's still cheaper than working and living in New York, and there's no traffic, and people don't yell at you all the time (unless you take too long at the bank drive thru). As long as we don't put up the guests at the New Tremont, we are all set.

I hope Kelly/Kristy/Kelly, whatever her name is, is okay with all this. If not, she can take a couple of days off to think about it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Classic roadster for sale

MY UNCLE PETER is selling his 1954 MG Roadster. It's a beautiful car with a lot of history, especially for the Hart family.

Click here for more details about the car. I figured there may be some interest in Quincy, since the Tin Dusters are so big around here. An fascinating look at the car and its history can be found here.

He bought it nearly 40 years ago while living in Australia. I remember being in it in the mid-80s when he lived in Toronto. A couple of summers ago we tooled around the back roads of Ottawa County, in Michigan and it was a blast.

Peter is downsizing and selling off some of his "toys," so to speak. He lives south of Holland, Michigan. I don't know much about classic cars, but I did some poking around online and I think this vehicle is very fairly priced.

It can't be easy to part with such a great car. Sure, it's just a vehicle, a motor with wheels, but I'm sure it means much more than that. I just had a discussion with a woman who wants to sell her 40-year-old guitar, which isn't worth much. I talked her out of it, for now. The personal value is greater than the financial worth.

But in this case, I understand why Uncle Peter is selling the MG. He and my Aunt Helen have been looking for some time to downsize and move to a smaller home.

Sheryl and I hope to get up there later this summer. Part of me hopes it sells before that, but another part thinks it would be fun to take another ride. Here's to hoping it finds a good home.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Green rooms, rain and Robots

THERE'S A PRO and con to everything. It's all about how you deal with it - in our case, we just have a party.

The Dogwood Festival in Quincy is a tradition and a good time. I like the parade and the events surrounding it, especially this year since The District hosted the street party right in front of the store Saturday night.

The carnival I can do without. It clogs up traffic and kills our business on Saturday, normally our biggest day of the week. Actually you can still get within half a block of Second String Music, but some people drive up and see all the chaos and simply turn around. We did have some of our regular customers brave the closed streets and come in, and for that, we are always grateful.

It's all part of being downtown. There are certain weekends every year like this, and we make the best of it.

Saturday night, the Matt Roberts Blues Band opened and Super Majik Robots from St. Louis were the headliners. The huge Quincy Park District stage was placed right in front of our 505 Maine Street doors. Matt and the boys invited me to jam with them again, and we got excited as the 6 p.m. start time drew closer.

The sun was out about 4:30, but torrential rains arrived half an hour later. The start time got pushed back, and back again.

You can mope about the rain, OR you can open up the back room of Second String Music, call it the Green Room, and have a party. Can you guess what we did?

Victoria Kelley started it by asking if I knew "Space Oddity" by David Bowie. No, not really, but I can always try. Then Cori Lyssy started chiming in and suddenly we were playing "Purple Rain."

It's the Super Majik Pepper Prospect band!
Then, then, then .... the Super Majik Robots showed up. From St. Louis, the Robots are an incredible party band with amazing mashups and song choices. Dave, the guitar player, grabbed my Takamine acoustic guitar, and it was on.

At one point I looked up and Pete Magliocco and Matt Roberts were playing guitar, Adam Yates was smacking the cajon and everybody was hooting and hollering. It was still raining, and raining hard. Our friends were jammed into the back room (that's where the fridge is, naturally) and it was just an awesome mess.

The skies finally cleared and The District Street Dance was on. Matt was blasting away on the big stage, and people started flooding the streets for a party. Joining them to jam was a blast, just like last Sunday at the Club. At the end of the set Maine Street was a sea of people, and by the time the Robots started at about 10, the place was shaking.

The only downer was the drunk clown who walked onto the stage. Frank Haxel and I made sure he was safely escorted off, and security quickly took over.

Every gig has a story, right Frank?

Mike Sorenson of Bad Wolf Media chronicled the whole thing and shot this awesome video. I'm glad because the night was a blur, and just another notch in the Second String Music Green Room party list.

Geesh. I need to sleep until Wednesday. But I'll be ready to do it again, back room music store style.