Thursday, October 9, 2008

The horse and the church on The Hill

Last night I heard the guy across the bar at The Tap Room talking about buying his house from a guy who kept a horse in the city.

So I added butting in to the sin of eavesdropping and launched into a long story about living on The Hill in the early '90s and taking long walks up and down every street of The Hill and through every alley and how I stumbled, one night, unexpectedly, on a horse, staring cooly at me in the gloom of a backyard, right at the corner of two alleys in the middle of the block.

"That's my house," the guy said. "I was just telling these guys. That was the guy's horse."

That tripped me out.

I wanted to know the name of the horse. The guy didn't know.

"What would you like it to be named?" asked another guy at the bar, who mostly had been talking about coyote hunting.

I said I didn't know.

He asked me how did the horse make me feel.

I said it spooked me, being there unexpected in the dark, in the city, staring at me.

"Then the horse's name was Spook," said the coyote hunter.

I had just finished putting an edition of The St. Louis American to bed and was too tired to draw either of these guy's faces. But I did have the energy this morning to grab a chapter from my music memoir about living on The Hill and drop it in here.

It's Chapter 44 - a magic number - the number of U.S. president Barack Obama will be.


44. A Meeting at Marconi

I have a promotional postcard for Enormous Richard’s gigs that spring (1991). The gig list on this postcard is interesting. I count five road bookings in two months. All but one – a Saturday at the Lounge Axe with Goober and the Peas, when we finally made a splash in Chicago – were on workdays. Sound check for a 10 p.m. opening slot was usually at 7 p.m. All of these drives demanded five hours on the road, plus the ever-essential wiggle room for gack stops and overheating vehicles. This means that those of us with day jobs were already developing the habit of having half-day jobs.

Skoob had left Wash. U. for a lab on the east side of the river with better pay, but far less patience for Friday noon departures. That looks in retrospect like a traveling musician passive-aggressively squirming his way out of a straight job. Which Skoob soon did. The Chevette that could have transported him to lucrative research opportunities in New York began to shuttle him between a pizzeria and the doorsteps of people in the mood for a pizza. Yet another young chemist sacrificed to the maw of the Goddess. Eviction from his bachelor single soon followed.

For lodgings, Skoob pitched in with me. We rented a two-story shotgun shack on Marconi Street, located on the Hill, Italian town, a neighborhood making its first, tentative adjustments to the need to rent and sell real estate outside of the tribe. Any pair of mutt non-Paisan rock musicians moving onto the hill would have fallen under the scrutiny of an entire ethnicity, but 2115 Marconi was not just any address. We had moved directly opposite St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church — the Italian command center in St. Louis, presided over by a monsignor whose connections probably went all the way to Vatican City. They certainly extended down the street to Sonny, who paid us an early meet and greet visit.

The meeting was held on our upstairs balcony, in full view of St. Ambrose (and perhaps the monsignor parting a rectory window blind).

“So, I heard you’re in a band,” Sonny said, sipping a beer we had provided.

Word travels fast on the Hill.

“That’s not a problem,” he assured us. “My old man was in a band. He sang back-up for Del Shannon.” Sonny dusted off his own doo wop chops for a few bars. He didn’t sound terrible.

“You sound really good,” Skoob said.

We all sipped beers.

“What kind of music do you guys play?” Sonny asked. “Rock and roll?”

Skoob’s eyes met mine with the same nervy dilation of pupil. Now, evidently, was no time to preach the gospel of skuntry.

“Yeah,” I said. “Rock and roll.”

“I like rock and roll,” Sonny said.
He paused in mid-thought. Long enough to make the pause — and whatever followed it — significant.
“Not that loud shit, though,” he added.

We returned to our beers. Thank God people have invented things to do with our hands besides choke each other to death.

“You know,” Sonny said, getting down to business, “the monsignor lives right over there.”

So we had been told, we assured him.

“I just wanted you to know that,” Sonny said. “Me and Monsignor, see, we’re tight. Real tight. I live right down the street. He knows, he needs anything, all he has to do is call.”
Another significant pause. His eyes locked on Skoob’s. and then on mine.

“Same goes for you guys,” Sonny added, unconvincingly.

There is a spookier sequel to this; tell ya later.

Church pic from Chamber Chorus.

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