Saturday, October 15, 2016

Flames (Burning In My Mind)

Flames burning in my mind
You know it happens all the time
Fire inside of me I'm overcome by its intensity
Flames dance all over me now they're pulsing rhythmically
Oh no, dead or alive, i'll be there when they arrive

Flames (c) 1985 Peter Underdog
Those are the lyrics to the (minor) hit single "Flames" by the band Etaoin Shrdlu. The tune got airplay on Mass Appeal, the Sunday night local rock show hosted by "Carmelina" on WAAF-FM 107.3 the only station that really rocks! It generated a few requests for the next show, but then (no pun intended) flamed out.

The band Etaoin Shrdlu was formed in 1983 by Phil Garrett (guitar) and Pete Mafoosky (Fender Rhodes, ARP Omni, and Minimoog), and included Gregg Monsonn on drums, Jan Dagnos on bass, and Vicky Tayback on alto sax. Vicky and Jan would share lead vocals. The unpronouncable and inscrutable name of the band was probably an impediment to their single or career catching on, but it was simply a tribute to the long-time newspaper career of Pete's dad Jerry. In the early days of typesetting, 'type' meant 'lead type', as in the metal.

Linotype machines, which in the days of 'hot type' were used to produce lead type line by line (each line called a slug) had a wild-ass keyboard arrangement, designed to slow down the operator so the Rube Goldberg-esque mechanisms in the machine wouldn't get jammed when trying to keep up with a fast typist.

A linotype operator would fire up the machine by doing glissandos down the keyboard, producing the nonsense words ETAOIN (first column) SHRDLU (second), and sometimes even CMFWYP (third)

These Dr. Seuss words would sometimes unintentionally find their way into print.

To Pete Mafoosky, Etaoin Shrdlu was part of his DNA and made perfect sense to him (and his bandmates after much convincing). The rest of the world didn't get the joke, though, so eventually like in Joe's Garage, the band broke up, and it looked like, they would never play again.

Speaking of garages, a decade or so earlier, Pete and his 'Irish twin' Andre would hang around in their garage burning stuff and blowing stuff up. Their favorite activities were burning substances with warning labels that specifically said "Keep Away From Flame" like alcohol, acetone, mineral spirits and the like. They also did magnesium strips (easily obtainable at the Toy & Hobby Shop at the mall), which would burn with a spectacular white hot flame until all that was left was a wormy ash of magnesium oxide.  

They also liked those things that turned into black snakes as they burned, giving off the sickening sweet aroma of formaldehyde (which is the simplest aldehyde. Aldehydes are characterized by the functional group CHO -- see that big red juicy oxygen atom?)

They also purchased many a roll of caps which were typically not loaded into cap guns, but blasted by banging them with a hammer.

The burning activities were joint ventures, but most of the time, Pete would be building impossible science projects, with Andre lurking nearby proclaiming "It won't work" at every opportunity. Pete worked on his projects diligently, but most of the time, Andre was right -- won't work.

On a sunny Fourth of July in the town of Shakopee, some 17 miles away from the Mafoosky garage, where the bros were now burning matches and popping caps to celebrate with Uncle Sam, another pair of Irish twins was about to carry out an experiment that definitely did work, with tragic and far-reaching results.

Mickey and Jimmy Logan had built a pipe bomb out of a lead pipe, and gunpowder harvested from shotgun shells that had been found in the back of closet in the basement. They packed the gunpowder into the pipe, and topped it off with a firecracker which would be used as a blasting cap.

Jimmy was a guitar prodigy who played at talent shows and wowed audiences with his renditions of surf hits like Miserlou and Walk Don't Run. Mickey was the younger twin and wasn't musically inclined like his brother, but admired his abilities. Together, they were good at cooking up stunts like this.

They gave each other five, lit the firecracker, then turned and ran like hell behind the garage. They waited with hands over ears for their IED (as something like that would be called in Bushworld years later) to go boom. 

 They cowered for a while, until it became clear that nothing was gonna happen. "Shit. That fuckin firecracker probably went out" said Jimmy. Without warning, Jimmy jumped up and ran toward the IED. Mickey's heart nearly stopped. He screamed "JIMMY DON'T!!!" 

Before those words hit Jimmy's ears, the dang deal exploded, causing a fragment of lead from the pipe to enter his chest cavity, severing his aorta, dropping his blood pressure instantly to 0/0 and flooding his lungs with blood. Hey lay on the ground eyes open, chest bleeding, and upper lip twitching in a permanent sneer.

Mickey meanwhile had shielded his eyes, but not soon enough as a chunk of paper wrapping from one of the shotgun shells pierced his left eyeball. In addition, the shock wave from the explosion entered his left ear, obliterating his left ear drum.

He lay on the ground face down in shock, bleeding, and crying his head off to the point of nearly suffocating.

Meanwhile back in Mafooskyville, Pete and Andre's mom interrupted their incendiary fun. "What are you nummies doing now? You're gonna burn down the house!" Pete wondered if their activities weren't really that bad since they were only "nummies", not something worse. "Get inside!"

Jimmy Logan was buried, the newspapers carried stories warning kids about the dangers of fireworks, McGruff the wonder dog retooled his presentation for his upcoming fall school tour, adding a warning to kids not to play with fireworks unless you want to be another Jimmy Logan. Summer turned to fall, the Mafoosky boys returned to school at St. Ursula Academy, and the Great Eastern State Fair returned for its annual "10 Funtastic Day" run.

The "10 Funtastic Days" marketing trope was the brainchild of one Joanie Dumont, the Fair's Publicity Director. She was 40ish, petite, wore a bouffant hairdo, and swore like a stevedore. Pete and Andre's dad, Jerry, had a part-time job working for Joanie during the fair, churning out press releases and helping local and regional media types who covered the fair for newspaper, radio and TV outlets. The fair attracted fairgoers from Great Eastern States including Aquinnah, Norwottuck, and Acadia so those media types could come from fairly far away places.

Mom even got recruited into working for Joanie one day when she was hanging around the Press Office waiting for Jerry to finish mimeographing some press releases. Pete and Andre were on the way to the midway holding a fistful of ride tickets Joanie had given them to "get those goddamn children out of this office!". Joanie needed a press release written about an act the fair had booked called "Kahuna Elvis", a Hawaiian Elvis impersonator (yes, they even had those when Elvis was still alive!).  His grand finale was singing "How Great Thou Art", while twirling flaming batons stinking of kerosene, as he was surrounded by hula dancers and faux palm trees. His version of "Hunka Hunka Burning Love" was also something else.

Jerry was busy unjamming the mimeograph machine. Joanie went up to Mom and said "Go over to the artists' tent and find this Kahuna guy. Interview him, then come back and write a press release." Mom, who hadn't written anything since she ghost-wrote some of Jerry's college term papers, looked at Joanie like she had two heads. Joanie held her gaze, then barked "What the fuck are you waiting for? Christmas?" Mom got up, grabbed a steno pad, and set out to find the big Kahuna.

The big Kahuna was a charmer and told his life story, which was a little overboard for a press release. After filling a few pages of the steno pad, Mom got up to return to the Press Office, lest Joanie unleash another torrent of obscenities in her general direction. Before leaving, Mom turned to Kahuna and said, "I was wondering if you could talk to a couple of little guys about playing with fire. You 'play with fire' for a living."

Mom wrote that press release, just like those term papers, and Joanie was so happy she gave the boys two fists full of ride tickets then next time they showed up. Three years later, Joanie would die suddenly while carrying a load of laundry upstairs -- a previously undiagnosed congenitally malformed heart valve got stuck open and her lungs filled with blood, just like Jimmy Logan. She never got to dial the "9" in "911".

Before going on those rides, Mom told them, "I want you to meet someone". In walked a tall Hawaiian gentleman who held out his hand and greeted the boys. They were shitting their pants about who this guy was and what he wanted with them. He ended up giving them the standard McGruff the wonder dog speech and asked them if they wanted to end up like that Logan kid, who had made national news.

The other Logan kid, meanwhile, was at home touching the strings of his brother's sea foam green Fender Stratocaster, still raw with the loss. The strings, amazingly still in tune (locking nut!) felt good and reminded him of Jimmy. He picked up the guitar, and strummed a little bit. The strumming felt good, sounded good to his one working ear, and relaxed him a bit. Strumming the open chord a little more rhythmically now, he started to hum, and then started to sing:

"Who is Peter Underdog, Underdog, Underdog?"