Thursday, September 22, 2016

Music Review - Hollywood Vampires

Cover albums are like live albums to me... one or two listens and I'm good. Still these are pretty interesting covers, as far as covers go.

When I heard that Alice Cooper’s new album was going to be classic rock covers I had no interest, especially after these same covers being the low-light of his most recent concert at the Embassy. But my mind was changed when I read that instead of his current band Mr. Cooper would be flanked by a revolving supergroup, anchored curiously by actor Johnny Depp who incidentally always considered acting a side-gig that allowed him to follow his true love of music. Add in a couple of originals and legendary producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Destroyer by Kiss) at the helm and I couldn’t get my credit card out fast enough.

Called The Hollywood Vampires after the heavy drinking group Cooper was a part of the late seventies, the criteria for playing on the album seems to be having had lost a band member to drugs or alcohol. Many of the original Vampires who have gone early to the grave are honored on the album including singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson. The band opens a creepy version of “One”, a Nilsson song made famous by Three Dog Night, that drop-kicks into a seriously heavy groove compliments of Dave Grohl (Nirvana) on drums, quickly sidestepping into a rousing version of “Jump Into The Fire.” “Whole Lotta Love” likewise starts in a manner that is completely different than the original before a proper rendition launches and Cooper hands the microphone off to Brian Johnson (AC/DC) while Joe Walsh (Eagles) joins Depp, Orinathi, Tommy Henriksen, and Bruce Witkin is a six string battle. That’s a whole lotta guitars! At this juncture I’d like to point out how just about every band ever formed since 1970 has tackled this and many of the songs on this album. You’ve heard ‘em yourself. Every now and then it’s been great but more often than not you wish you hadn’t turned down that last beer. Not so with this troop. These seasoned pros have more often than not shared the stage with the bands being honored and are more than capable of rendering fitting tribute. In the case of “Five to One/Break on Through” Robby Krieger plays guitars on the very song he once recorded with Morrison, surpassing the explosive energy of the original, if that’s possible. Not every song is a blistering revision, though. “Come and Get It” is fairly true, with Joe Perry (Aerosmith) on guitars joining Paul McCartney on vocals, Paul McCartney on bass and Paul McCartney on piano. Oh yeah, Paul McCartney was once in band named The Beatles with John Lennon, an original Hollywood Vampire whose song “Cold Turkey” is given a right good sendup on this platter.

Limited space restricts a full exploration of each song so instead peruse this list: “My Generation”, Slash, “Jeepster”, “Manic Depression”, Kip Winger, “Itchycoo Park”, “I Got A Line On You”, Perry Farrell, Zak Starkey. And of course why not throw in a cover of “School’s Out”, but is it a cover if 3/5 of the original band plays on it? Yessir, Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway form the powerhouse rhythm section on this one, taking a sudden and delightful detour by mixing in bits of “Another Brick In The Wall” into the “School’s Out” rhythm.

The two original songs are good but standing sonically next to these foundations of rock reveals their limitations. Consider them freebies. While Cooper and many of his pals are well into their sixth decade of life there is no sign of letting up. The energy on these loving renditions is astounding, the sound is modern, and the Hollywood Vampires show no signs of giving up the ghost.

Music Review - Black Violin - Stereotypes

My wife liked this enough to ask me to make a copy for the van. However the kids weren't very tolerant of it.

Wil B and Kev appear to be two men who enjoy playing with peoples’ perceptions. In their early thirties, Kev still looks like he might be a linebacker, dwarfing the violin he so skillfully plays. Both men got started on violin in their early teens and met each other in high school, finding a common bond in their love of reggae, hip-hop and classical music. Their “ah-ha” moment occurred when they taught their high school orchestra how to play “Gimme Some More” by Busta Rhymes and realized that combining classical instruments with popular music was a great way to get some female attention. Naming themselves Black Violin, it wasn’t long before the two were writing original material and crafting their own sound, ultimately leading to an album and gigs for NFL Superbowl celebrations and the White House.

Stereotypes is their second album, devised in part by produced Eli Wolf who has worked with Norah Jones, The Roots and Elvis Costello. The twelve tracks comprise three distinct types of songs. The first type is traditional R&B pop song about love, albeit with a heavy emphasis on strings. “Stay Clear” is upbeat and soulful, featuring Kandace Springs on vocals and Robert Glasper on Rhodes, and is sure to get your body moving. The slow simmering “Losing Control” could easily be heard on a number of local stations and includes a deliciously squishy bass synth tone and honest lyrics like “I’ve been lonely before / But never this lonely before.” Featuring thick drums and pizzicato strings, “Send Me A Sign” is another outstanding song of romantic longing.

The second type is musically similar but features more socially conscious lyrics. Pulsing violins form the hip-hop rhythmic bed of “Invisible”, a track featuring Pharoahe Monch who delivers encouraging rapid spoken-word rhymes about how you don’t have to be ignored and “invisible” before a sizzling violin solo slams the message home. The relaxed “Another Chance” is another inspirational gem with a chorus of “I can’t change the past / But I control the future” and the kind of strong melody that sticks in your head for days.

The third type is the more classically influenced instrumental. Bridging the gap between the last two types is the title track, “Stereotypes”, a dramatic showcase of the immense talents of these two men as they trade chops back and forth over a jazzed up hip-hop beat, pausing occasionally for audio clips of people discussing stereotypes and their experience with such. A smoky organ and hints of the seventies pervade “Walk on By” while “Day 2” is soaked in a crusty low-toned synth that opens to a shimmering, dancing piano figure that allows Kev and Wil B to explore a heart-tugging melody to its fullest. “Shaker” is the most classical of the bunch, sounding like a Mozart string quartet set to a rock beat where the duo duke it out while exploring a number of themes. The album closes with the cinematic “Runnin’”, a slow build that crescendos in a fiery exposition of melody and technical prowess that simultaneously showcases their ability to compose heart-pounding music.

Stereotypes has just enough “classical” to lift the brow slightly but not so much that it alienates those who can’t tell Bartok from Bach.

Music Review - Anekdoten - Until All The Ghosts Are Gone

I haven't felt the need to go back to this one in the last year... it kinds creeps me out.

So there I was, minding my own business, when a knock came upon my chamber door. "Who are you?" I asked. "Anekdoten. We've been around since 1993, though our last album was in 2007," was the reply. "Never heard of ya. Show me what ya got." Ever compliant, the nice Swedes set up their gear and launched into “Shooting Star,” the first track off their new album Until All The Ghosts Are Gone. Ten minutes long, this nearly instrumental track was propelled by hard-edged psychedelic rock organs, at times drawing from the well of King Crimson’s Red album and other times throwing a bone to fellow Swedes Opeth, now and then throwing a loving glance at Machine Head-era Deep Purple. It was some good stuff, feeding the brain and the soul, I tells ya, and I instantly wanted to shop at Ikea. As that was a road trip I couldn’t afford to take, I set up a folding chair to get comfortable and asked them to play me another song.

They obliged. “Get Out Alive” has a stoner rock feel but with a psychedelic twist, kind of like 70s Black Sabbath meets Black Moth Super Rainbow. Maybe there’s a little Super Furry Animals in there also. The combination of gutsy, distorted guitars and clear cinematic strings pulsing through a well-conceived song development cycle was absolutely hypnotic, beautiful even, in a bleak kind of way. “If It All Comes Down To You” cranks up the mellotron flute sound, as much as a flute can be cranked, layering in billows of clean electric guitars and vibraphone, creating an expansive, airy cloud of a song that made me think more than once of the subtle yet epic compositions of Oceansize, lots of tension and very little release. I applauded and this encouraged the band to continue, launching in “Writing on the Wall,” a more aggressive song starting with gritty bass guitar, orchestral strings, very few vocals, and a powerful, insistent finale. Like their other songs, despite there being a lot going on the overall feel was soothing and I had the feeling that if I listened to their music with headphones and a black light there would be no need for any chemical enhancements to achieve a satisfying head trip. As no one in the band had brought their black lights they instead played “Our Days Are Numbered”, starting with vibraphone and flute to set a comforting tone before dropping the floor out via a creepy section that morphed directly into a dense, heavy rock feel with a tumble of drums and a twisty bass line. Five minutes of adventurous, intense rock later the band dips into a dreamy section and before I know it I realize that they’ve snuck saxophones into the mix. This builds to a passage that would please any Syd-era Pink Floyd fans, adding in a twitchy rhythm in the drums that only adds to dark, brooding feel of the piece. As the song ends I sit there, stunned, on my lawn chair, impressed that they were able to suck me in so thoroughly on the very first listen. Therein is their genius as the music of Anekdoten is fully grounded in the psychedelic/English progressive music of very early seventies and yet is modern and fresh, both novel and nostalgic. Kudos, melancholy Swedes! You’ve won me over.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Poweraid Review - Mountainberry Blast

Those zany kids are at it again!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Poweraid Review - Tropical Mango

If you haven't inferred from my lack of posts, I've lost the excitement of trying all the alcoholic root beers in the world. I still haven't covered Coney Island or the brand that I found at Aldi or the bottom shelf Dekuyper and Hiram Walker root beer Schnapps (Schnappses?). Maybe when another hard Indiana winter hits I'll be feeling the need to warm my blood but right now it's toasty and warm which makes me want something that isn't syrupy sweet.

Which is why I'm tackling a new challange of trying every flavor* of Poweraid!
It's also a lot more affordable. I bought all of these, plus two more to complete the set, for about the cost of a single six-pack of that pseudo-micro-brew stuff. Look at all them purdy unnatural colors!

I originally was going to steal a page from The Olde Man and do a video review, showing my reaction upon tasting each flavor. I would solomnly swish the drink around my mouth, ponder my sensations, and then announce that it tasted like chicken. Funny, no? But upon reviewing my first foray into the world of vlogs I remembered why God made faces like mine to be behind the camera. However three of my kids were nearby so I hastily had them give the stuff to try and found their reactions to be similar to mine, though far superior in terms of entertainment value. Pay no attention to their lack of proper attire... that's just how us homeschoolers roll***.

So without any further ado, here's their reaction to Tropical Mango Poweraid!

* Every regular flavor. That non-calorie Zero stuff just has a wicked aftertaste.

** I actually tried to use the < BLINK > code to make this line blink but I guess it's not supported. I am so uncool I'm cool!

*** However I will make sure that in the future they will at least wear more than undergarments.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Music Review - The Choir - Wide-Eyed Wonder

For some reason it has taken me an immensely long time to write this review. Yes, life has been busy but also so much of my early Christian walk is woven with the melodies of this album that attempting to do it justice would be a tall order. Or maybe I don’t know where to start. Or maybe I don’t know what to leave out. Upon further reflection perhaps the reason I don’t want to do my usual review of this album is because to dissect the music might just kill the magic that it had and frankly still has. So I’ll meander about instead.

The Choir’s Wide Eyed Wonder was my introduction to the band (and one of my first Christian albums). As such, I had no clue about Chase The Kangaroo or their former name or that Robin had replaced Tim Chandler* as the band’s bassist. All I knew was that a friend (who seemed to find all the great music three minutes before I did) talked highly about this band so I picked up the album when I saw it on the shelf at my local purveyor of fine** Christian music. It was a purchase I’ve never regretted.

Having been immersed in the world of The Swirling Eddies at that time, I incorrectly took some of Steve’s lyrics as humorous, when in fact he intended them to be poetic. And they are poetic, so I mean no disrespect. But lines like “No, not the spider-shed” and “Were you talking to the snow man? Did you take his cruel advice?” are also a bit random and appealed to my off-kilter sense of humor.

Wide-Eyed Wonder was very different from the music I had been listening to since I began my teen years, which was mostly heavy metal and hard rock. Compared to what I had been listening to this stuff was almost pop, but with a little bit of edge and a little bit of weirdness. I liked all three. The most upbeat of all The Choir albums, there’s a childlike wonder about the songs which captures Steve’s joy over the birth of his daughter and also mirrored my wondrous joy in my newfound relationship with Christ. Of course I knew none of this in my youthful ignorance. All I knew is that there were some unusual sounding songs that were also very singable, very easy to like. There was also a longer, more atonal song called “Car etc.” that I kind of liked but it wasn’t my favorite. There was also a horribly out of place cover of a George Harrison song***. Its fine by itself but it’s a dour acoustic folk song in the middle of a joyous and adventurous celebration. Also tied to this album was the first time I saw the band live. It was the spring of 1990 and I was at Anderson University. I had a girlfriend but no other friends and was so lonely that it ached. I kept seeing this guy around campus who wore a trench coat upon which he had written poetry or lyrics or something all over it. He was a bit on the odd side but friendly so I started talking to him. Surprisingly he also liked The Choir and Adam Again and a few other bands I liked so when I learned that The Choir was playing in my hometown, a mere ninety minutes away, I invited him to ride to the concert with me. It would be great to say that this was the beginning of a lifelong friendship but we didn’t keep in touch after I transferred out at the end of the semester.**** I realize I haven’t said much about the actual album but hey, it’s my blog and I can write like an old man about my ancient memories if’n I want to. You probably already have this album anyway but if you don’t, well, you can’t buy it even from the bands website. YouTube probably has it so treat yourself to some fine tunes that have held up amazingly well for over twenty-five years.

* Looking back at this point in my history I was musically drawn to bass parts but didn’t realize it. I knew there was an instrument called the “bass guitar” but had no clue as to its seductive power or purpose.

** And not so fine. I’m talking to you, Carman and Petra!

*** Really, Choir? Can you tell me, with a straight face, that you listened to the final cut of the album and didn’t think to yourself, “Well, maybe that Harrison cover breaks the spell.”?

**** He’s on Facebook. I sent a friend request though I have no idea why.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Sins of the Fathers - a short story

Earlier this summer I threw out a challenge to fans of Daniel Amos to write a short story based on one or many of their songs. So far I haven't received any back but the summer isn't over yet. I hope you have as much fun reading this story as I did writing it.

Sins of the Fathers

There’s that counter kid with the insufficient moustache and wiry frame, wiping down a table by the restrooms. He’s one of those bright and funny young know-it-alls, just like his grandpa William who was an old acquaintance of mine, though this kid doesn’t know it and probably wouldn’t care if he did. I stand in the doorway of Johnny’s Café and look around for Dotty but don’t see her, meaning she probably had to take time off from work again with a sick kid, one of the many struggles of being a single mom.

I usually sit at the counter and talk to Bob, the owner and cook of this roadside greasy spoon, but I’m feeling kind of anti-social so I take a booth on the east side where the mid-morning sun can come in. A moment later the kid comes over and I’m thankful for his name tag, my mind momentarily not able to remember that his name is Blake.

“Howya doin today, Mr. Akendorf?”

Life is God's gift but the years have weight and I'm logy, a little sluggish. My back's bothering me again and my bones are rigid and I’m wondering how difficult it’s going to be getting out of this booth, but these are things young Blake won’t understand and doesn’t want to hear. “Better than I deserve,” I reply. Like most of us old codgers, I feel like I’ve lived too many years but then again, not long enough.

“Seen any flying saucers lately?” He humors me and like always, I just let it slide.

“Not today, Blake.” I leave it at that. It’s an old story back from when I was about Blake’s age, a story that kind of got me labelled as an eccentric in this small town. I don’t mind, I suppose. One is what one is. “How’s your music career going?”

“Our drummer quit last week but we’ve got two guys trying out this weekend. Hopefully we’ll have someone by the time we have enough money saved to get into the studio. After that it’s just a matter of time. So what can I get ya? The usual?” He has his pad and pen poised and ready in front of him.

“No, I’m feeling a bit hungrier than usual. I’ll take a Mighty Grunion with extra gravy, to grow my derrière. And java jive. Black.”

“Okay, Bud. One Mighty Grunion coming right up.” The kid turns and leaves, putting my ticket in the order slider by the kitchen. He comes back in a moment and wordlessly places a white mug and saucer in front of me, filling it with steaming bean squeezins. Even this simple action reveals his limitless reserve of optimistic, youthful energy, his bright porcelain blue eyes brimming over with the fire of the immortal soul, making me feel even older, as if he’s siphoning off what little vigor I stored up overnight.

I cup the hot mug in my hands and enjoy the warmth that seeps into my bones, half-squinting with the bright sun on my face as I look out into the parking lot. In the kitchen Bob has the radio on to an oldies station and when “Last Kiss” comes on it’s too much to resist. So I let myself go, fading back to the summer of 1964.

• • • • • •

That song, “Last Kiss,” was all over the radio that summer. It seems you couldn’t step out of your door without hearing a thin rendition squawking out of some kid’s transistor radio. This was back before F.M. so everything was thin, including myself. My best friend Theo and I spent a lot of time that year hanging out with Bill, Blake’s grandpa, though he was a long way from being a grandpa. Bill was okay but I would be lying if I said the fact that Bill had a car and access to his dad’s beer didn’t play into our decision to hang out with an underclassman. Plus Theo had the hot’s for Bills girlfriend, Connie, who was constantly by his side in the front passenger seat of his 1959 Ford Galaxie. Maybe Theo just liked being close to her, even if all he usually saw was the back of her head. I don’t blame him. I mean, she was beautiful enough that I wouldn’t have been surprised to one day hear John Charles Daly pronounce her Miss Universe, but I’ve never been one to fight dirty in the game of love and try to take another guy’s girl. Besides I had my eye on a pretty young sophomore with the magical name of Irma.

One of those endless summer nights Theo and I walked over to Bill’s house to see if he was home. Bill’s dad was bowling and he and Connie had already helped themselves to a couple cans each of Lucky Lager. Bill’s dad was a big shot local businessman who could afford to buy his son a car as well as alimony for an ex-wife. More importantly he was a heavy drinker who didn’t keep very good tabs on his stash so it was easy for Bill to be generous. We sat around for an hour or so before Bill had the idea to drive out to the Los Padres National Forest. It was still early, just barely dark, so we all jumped at the chance to howl. I wasn’t much of a drinker, still aren’t, but I’d had enough so that I didn’t realize that Bill had had too many. Now I’m not saying that Bill’s drinking affected his driving, or that our collective consumption played into the events of that evening, but its human nature to dig through the past and play “What if?”

We piled into the big, warm, sweet interior of Bill’s Galaxie and headed out into that strange and desperate night that would alter all our destinies. We assumed our regular positions of Bill at the wheel with Connie right up next to him on that massive bench seat. I was behind Bill and Theo was beside me, nowhere near as close as Connie was to Bill.

It only too about ten minutes before we made it out of Bakersfield, the stores and warehouses in our dust.

“One day I’m gonna leave Bakersfield and won’t go back,” said Theo. “I’m gonna hop on a train and explore Europe, maybe even Asia.”

“You can’t take a train to Europe, Theo,” replied Bill as he cracked another beer.

“You know what I mean, wise-acre.”

Bill took a gulp of his warm beer. “Ya know what, I’m bored with Los Padres. Let’s go to Tehachapi Mountain Park instead. The views are incredible!”

“Views of what? Its night time?” quipped Theo.

Without waiting for a vote Bill turned left onto the next country road.

Because of his late decision we weren’t on the main road to Tehachapi and had to nose around a few dead ends before we found a narrow gravel side road that led up into the mountains. Once found Bill seemed eager to make up for his lost time and pressed down on the gas to speed up the treacherous curves, smiling as Connie clung to his arm in fear.

“Slow down, baby. I’m in no hurry.” Bill let off the gas a little which seemed to satisfy Connie.

As we traveled upward we hit a section without trees on the driver’s side and we were able to catch of view of the moon-bathed mountainside. “What’s that?” asked Theo, pointing past my head out the open car window. We all looked and saw a green disc of light with a red pulsing center zipping over the trees and knew that we were seeing a U.F.O., just like in the movies but this one was right there before us in real life.

Theo said, “That is not theologically correct.”

Bill said, “SHIT!” and yanked the wheel hard to the right to avoid driving right off the narrow mountain road. The car slid sideways and the driver side slammed into a short wooden fence that ran along the edge of the road, a gift from the parks department for buffoons like us. Silence accompanied our sudden stop as we all tried to absorb what we just saw coupled with the hair-raising accident. The silence was broken by the radio, playing a few bars of some Beach Boys song before the car engine died. Theo started to laugh in relief. The rest of us sat there, our minds fumbling for words, when suddenly the car was bathed in red light. I leaned out my window and, looking up, my brain turned to sand. The saucer was hovering right above us, maybe fifty feet or so, as if investigating our accident. The horrendous disc was spinning like a record while the red light pulsed twice before the thing shot straight up like a bottle rocket, disappearing into the night.

Theo pulled me back into the car by my shirt. “Where’d it go?”

“Straight up. I can’t see it anywhere.”

Bill cranked the engine and it roared to life. “Well, we’re getting out of here, fast!” He popped the Galaxie into gear and gunned the engine. The rear wheels spun out on the gravel road and the rear of the car slid towards the center of the road, causing the front of the car to push against the fence. A thick, wooden crack could be heard over the engine and the car lurched forward, along with our stomachs, and we dropped off the edge.

My mother must have prayed for me that day because the drop was only twelve feet or so. The car landed nose down, at an angle, with its back wheels leaning against the mountainside, the cabin of the car a confusing Mystery Spot where forward was now down and no direction seemed up. I was banged up with my upper body hanging over the driver’s seat. Seat belts were an option that this particular Galaxie did not have, not that we would have used them. “Let’s get out of here,” I yelled, looking around the car. Theo had a gash on his forehead but was also otherwise okay. “Bill? Are you okay?”

Bill’s head had cracked the windshield. There was a smear of blood but he was coming to. “What? Crap. My dad’s gonna kill me. Connie?” We all looked over at where Connie should have been. My blood turned cold at the sight of the open passenger door leading into a black night. “CONNIE!?” We all scrambled from the car as fast as we could. Fortunately the nose of the car was pretty well buried into the dirt so it didn’t shift or fall over as we made our exits.

“What I wouldn’t give right now for my old man’s flashlight!” We all scrambled around in the dim moonlight, yelling out Connie’s name. I found her, a few yards away, lying way too still. She had been thrown from the car when it hit. “Over here!”

Bill and Theo raced over, Bill kneeling beside her, his face next to hers. “Connie? Are you okay?” Even in the dim light I could see that Connie’s face was turning purple on one side but she opened her eyes, tried to smile through the stiffness and lifted a hand that I noticed was covered in blood, from where I couldn’t tell. “Connie! You’re okay!” Bill kissed her and turned to us, “Guys, she’s okay!” He turned back to Connie who had closed her eyes again. “Connie! Try to stay awake! Connie? Connie!” But there was nothing we could do. She was gone.

Bill stayed with her while Theo and I climbed up onto the road, walking back to the highway where we eventually flagged down help. Days later we learned that Connie had suffered a massive brain injury and there wasn’t anything medicine in those days could have done to save her. Bill spent two weeks in the hospital for his head injury and wasn’t able to attend her funeral. Theo and I both had some bruises but not much else, unless you count the severe sunburn I received from leaning out the window to get a better look at the saucer. I made the mistake of telling a few people about what we saw that caused us to have the accident, mostly because my sunburn made me a walking target for questions. Even though I shut up about it quickly enough the damage was done and I had earned myself a reputation as “that saucer guy.” Fortunately I graduated the next year and was able to move away to school. By the time I moved back four years later most people were over ribbing me about it, though I’m sure the notion was still in their minds. Bill and Theo were smart enough to keep their mouths shut. Not that I blamed them but it sure would have been nice to have someone back me up.

Theo and I went to the same college, kinda lost touch in the eighties when his marriage was in rough spot but got back in touch during the Clinton years. Irma and I used to get together with them each month for bridge but Theo’s wife has had some health issues lately so that’s on hold for now.

Things weren’t so easy for Bill. Even though there were no charges brought against him I think he blamed himself for the death of Connie, which caused him to start drinking more. A lot more. Once he showed up at my college and asked if I knew where he could get some acid. I didn’t and wouldn’t have told him if I did. Believe it or not, not everyone in the sixties did drugs. In the early seventies he ended up moving to Vegas and marrying some dancer named Terri Roy Al, and you can guess how long that lasted. He eventually went back home to work for his dad but a few years later the Vegas dancer showed up just long enough to drop off a young boy, counter-kid’s dad, surprising Bill, his pregnant second wife and their two year old daughter. In the early 80s Bill quit drinking after getting saved at some tent revival service a lady preacher held on the edge of town and basically got his act together, becoming the stereotypical pillar of the community just like his dad. It was obvious from the start that Scott, his Vegas-born son, had a wild side, or maybe he just didn’t feel like he fit in. A couple of car wrecks, a string of bad jobs, even six months in prison for dealing weed failed to turn him around. Bill did his best to help him along, finding him work when Scott was in the mood for it, but Bill couldn’t shelter him from three bad marriages. Blake here was the result, I think, of the second marriage. Some local girl named Anna, a good kid who got mixed up with Scott and ended up raising Blake alone. Well, not exactly alone. She was close to her family and they helped her out, as did Bill and his wife. Bill and I were never all that close so we didn’t reconnect after he got cleaned up but I’ve had my eye on Blake, him being Bill’s grandson and all. I guess I have a tender spot for him, and from the looks of things he turned out alright.

• • • • • •

My trip down memory lane is broken when Blake slides the white porcelain plate across my table. “One SAUCER of food, Mr. Akendorf.” I look up at his grin and am tempted to offer the boy some kind of words of wisdom, clichés about life being tough, tell him about unrealized expectations, maybe pass on a couple of tips. But I’ve learned after all this time that you can’t teach these young dogs new tricks.

“Thanks, Blake.”

My breakfast is hot, delicious and plentiful, meaning Bob is in his element. As I sit and enjoy the morning sun Blake stops by to pour me another cup of thick, bitter coffee. “Are ya finally gonna have some pie, Mr. Akendorf?” Despite my full belly I eye the glass carousel display of pie slices by the register, think about my sugar level and like always, I decline. “Just the check today.”

While he’s away getting my ticket I use the time to struggle out of the bench seat so I don’t give the boy something else to laugh about. Once up I head over to the restrooms, labeled Pointers and Setters, and by the time I return my check is waiting for me on the table. I look around but don’t see Blake so I leave the tip on the table and offer another prayer for the boy, for God’s mercy and His grace, for salvation and love and that maybe, just maybe, he can avoid the sins of his fathers and have the courage to make the world a better place. Good luck walking on water, kid. But when those mistakes come, learn from them. That’s what I would say if I felt it was my place.

Blake appears out of nowhere and beats me to the register, his usual cocky grin on his face, and I talk myself out of saying anything more than, “Have a good day.”

“You too, Mr. Akendorf. Hang in there!”

I shuffle out and leave him to his hopes and dreams as I hang onto my memories. Well… you hang on too, son.