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30 years ago: out of the (Arabi) park

I didn’t realize it until this morning, but Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of my last day at Arabi Park Middle School.

There were no classes that Friday; it was just to pick up our report cards and say goodbye until late August, or in my case, say goodbye, period.

I knew since mid-February I would not be attending eighth grade at Arabi Park. I received my acceptance letter to Brother Martin High, which has an eighth grade, February 11, four days after Mardi Gras and three before Valentine’s Day. I was surprised I got in, because I thought attending a public school would work heavily against me. Apparently, someone saw something in me to let me in.

I did have some help.

The admissions director at Brother Martin at the time, Greg Rando, had a sister-in-law, Anne, who was the assistant principal at Arabi Park. Greg, who graduated from Brother Martin in 1977, later became principal and is now president at his alma mater. Anne really helped me navigate the choppy waters at Arabi Park, especially the last three months after I was accepted to Brother Martin.

The famous trip to the Stennis Space Center on the Mississippi Gulf Coast came five days after I received my acceptance letter. On that trip, I wore not a shirt for my future high school, but the college I hoped to attend…Kansas State. It had Willie Wildcat, the cartoon mascot who bore a striking resemblance to Tom from Tom and Jerry, on the front.

On my last day at Arabi Park, I wore a Brother Martin t-shirt. Mrs. Rando was proud to show me off wearing it, but a lot of my classmates were not thrilled. Stacie Dauterive (Seube) was relieved I would be attending school in Gentilly, but I can’t blame her. I gave her and the other female members of my classes a lot of grief. I feel horrible I cannot apologize to Allison Richardson (White), who passed away from cancer in 2008. If I could have taken her place, I would have.

I admit I had a crush on Stacie at Arabi Park. She is a beautiful lady, but she is intelligent, kind and funny, and I love her much more for that. Her sister, Andree, is the same way. They definitely got it from their parents. Stacie could have been great at anything she wanted to, but she chose to give back by becoming a teacher like her mom.

Stacie has an autistic son, something which is heartbreaking for me. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. But he will thrive because he has great parents and a great family support system.

Rosemarie Renz (Huguet) went to school with me in kindergarten through fourth grade and could handle my antics, but the others couldn’t, but I really have no ill will towards them. I came into their universe in the second quarter of their sixth grade year, and I was, well, different. Nobody knew what Asperger’s Syndrome was in the United States, and they wouldn’t for five more years.

God, I miss Rosie. She is my oldest friend. I was sad when I didn’t get to see her in Baton Rouge last year. I hope my next visit there will reunite us. Rosie, like Stacie, is a teacher. The profession is that much better because of people like Rosie and Stacie.

I DID see Jason Malasovich, my second oldest friend, in Kansas City last year. I had the pleasure of meeting his lovely wife, Melissa, and their kids, Olivia and Carson. I’ve known Jason since we played basketball together in 1986-87.

And I’ll never forget Toni LaRocca in a Hooters uniform in 2000. She is such a wonderful soul whom I would give anything to see again, just like Rosie and Stacie.

I’ll never forget the others, either: Shawn O’Neil, Lara Doyle (Meyers), Kimberly Carmouche (Lee), Christi Rehage (Alvarez), Tammy Gilbert (the brains of the APM Class of ’90), Holly Atwood (Syrdal), Erin Billingsley (Lee), Nicole Meyer (who was taller than all the boys and damn good at the flute), Juli Wahl, Tina Calabresi, Vanessa Condra, Janis Maillet, Jack Bastoe, Jared Couture, Brandon Miller….plus a few who graduated before me, especially Jennifer Newell and Chastity Manzella.

They probably don’t remember me, but hey, memories fade.

I got teased quite a bit because I really liked Phyllis Marsolan, our sixth grade English teacher. I liked her, but most of her other students were more lukewarm. She was my first teacher crush, followed by Janine Koenig, my eighth grade science teacher, at Brother Martin. But I knew better than to act. It would have been disastrous for all involved.

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Yesterday was what I like to call Desiree Day.

That’s because in the opening line of Neil Diamond’s 1977 hit “Desiree”, it mentions the third of June as the night he supposedly became a man (read: lost his virginity) to a woman twice his age named Desiree.

Desiree is one of my favorite Diamond songs, and I have a lot of them. Here’s the Foots top 15:

15. I’m Alive

14. I’m a Believer (no, that is not a typo; Diamond came out with a version of the Monkees smash in 1967)

13. You Don’t Bring Me Flowers

12. Coming to America

11. Crunchy Granola Suite

10. Soolamion

9. Shiloh

8. Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show

7. Kentucky Woman

6. Cherry Cherry

5. Song Sung Blue

4. Desiree

3. Forever in Blue Jeans

2. Play Me

1. Cracklin’ Rosie

Notice what Diamond song is not up there. If I’ve offended any Red Sox fans, then too freaking bad.

Thursday is another anniversary mentioned in a song. Can you guess?

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The Blues and Bruins have alternated wins in the Stanley Cup Finals, with Boston winning the odds and St. Louis the evens. St. Louis has to break that pattern, preferably Thursday in game five at Boston. If the Blues win, they can clinch the Cup Sunday in St. Louis.

St. Louis had to watch the Canadiens skate the Cup in 1968 and ’69 after the Blues were swept in the final. In 1970, the Blues somehow had home-ice advantage, but it didn’t work a bit, with the Bruins sweeping, winning the finale in the Boston Garden on that goal by Bobby Orr.

The Stanley Cup has been skated four times in Boston since then, all by visitors: the Canadiens in ’77 and ’78, the Oilers in ’90 and the Blackhawks in 2013. Boston won the Cup in ’72 in Madison Square Garden vs. the Rangers, and in 2011 the Bruins won it in Vancouver, taking Game 7 4-0 after the home team won the first six games.

St. Louis has payback for more than 1970 on its minds. The city would like to get Boston back for the 2014 and ’13 World Series, Super Bowl XXXVI in February 2002, and the 1961 NBA Finals, the last time the Hawks franchise has made the finals.

In the NBA, the Warriors went on an 18-0 run to start the third quarter Sunday and won by five in Toronto, squaring that series 1-1. Had Golden State lost, it would have been bleak for the Warriors, even going back to Oakland. Hopefully the Warriors can hold serve at home and close it out, because the last thing I want is to see Drake leading a parade in Toronto.

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Feeding myself and my trivia addiction at Old Chicago in Salina. Got my hair cut by Amber. I have something groovy waiting for me in Russell..gl.

Neil outshined Whitney

My most recent post discussed Neil Diamond’s unfortunate diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease, which forced him to retire from touring immediately. I mentioned several of my favorite Diamond songs; “Sweet Caroline” was not among them, although it isn’t a bad song.

On this day 27 years ago, Whitney Houston performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to Super Bowl XXV. Many have called it the “greatest” rendition of the American national anthem they have ever heard, Super Bowl or otherwise.

I don’t care for it. I believe it got all that hype because it came during American involvement in Operation Desert Storm. If it had come during a “normal” period when the United States was not at war, I don’t think it would have been hyped so much.

I saw a retweet from ESPN business reporter Darren Rovell claiming Houston’s rendition was the greatest. In past years, I might have gone off on him, but today, I just said “I completely disagree” and mentioned my favorite rendition.

.My favorite Super Bowl national anthem rendition? You guessed it. NEIL FREAKING DIAMOND! His performance came prior to Super Bowl XXI in January 1987, and fittingly, one of Diamond’s hometown teams, the New York Giants, won their first NFL championship since 1956 by defeating the Broncos 39-20. The Giants also happened to win the Super Bowl when Houston performed, beating the Bills 20-19 when Buffalo’s Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal attempt wide right in the final seconds.

In case you’re curious, the other anthem performers for Giants Super Bowls: the Backstreet Boys (XXXV, lost to Ravens), Jordin Sparks (XLII, beat 18-0 Patriots) and Kelly Clarkson (XLVI, beat Patriots).

Diamond’s rendition of the anthem was, and still is, the shortest in the history of the Super Bowl: 61 seconds. For those who ridicule Diamond for rushing through the song, hogwash. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a march, not a dirge. It should be sung and played allegro or allegretto, not andante.

Click below to witness great man with a great rendition of our national anthem:

The first Super Bowl national anthem rendition I watched was Barry Manilow prior to Super Bowl XVIII in January 1984 (Raiders 38, Redskins 9).

My top five Super Bowl national anthem renditions. I am only counting Super Bowls where I watched the national anthem live, so nothing before Super Bowl XVIII.

  1. Neil Diamond, XXI
  2. Herb Alpert, XXII (the last non-vocal rendition, and that needs to change pronto)
  3. Mariah Carey, XXXVI
  4. Renee Fleming, XLVIII
  5. Kelly Clarkson, XLVI

Honorable mention: Billy Joel (XXIII), Faith Hill (XXXIV), combined military chorale (XXXIX)

My bottom five. Same rule as above applies.

  1. Natalie Cole, XXVIII
  2. Jennifer Hudson, XLIII
  3. Alicia Keys, XLVII
  4. Kathie Lee Gifford, XXIX (Frank Gifford was slobbering over the microphone introducing Kathie Lee)
  5. Luther Vandross, XXXI

Christina Aguilera in XLV is a special case. The singing was fine, but botching the words was not.

Lady Gaga at Super Bowl 50? Meh. Nowhere near the worst, but not worthy of my top five.

From the first 17 Super Bowls, my favorite was Tommy Loy. He was a trumpeter from Dallas who performed the national anthem at Cowboys home games for over two decades, and was asked by the NFL to do so prior to Super Bowl V in January 1971. It was fantastic. That is a hard song to play by yourself with no singing. I’m sure Colts fans were saying the NFL was playing favorites, but they can’t deny Loy nailed it.

I also thought Cheryl Ladd of Charlie’s Angels was fantastic prior to Super Bowl XIV in January 1980. The South Dakota native is a very talented actress and a fine golfer, but she has taken a lot of heat, first from fans of Charlie’s Angels who hated her because she replaced Farrah Fawcett on the show, and then from progressives who don’t like that Cheryl leans right politically.

The first anthem singer was Anita Bryant at Super Bowl III. The first two Super Bowls had marching bands perform the anthem. Too bad Bryant couldn’t stick to music.

Trivia question: Who sang the national anthem prior to Super Bowl XI in January 1977 (the first one I was alive for)?

Prior to Super Bowl XXXV, Ray Charles performed “America the Beautiful” prior to “The Star-Spangled Banner”. I don’t admit to getting emotional about songs very often, but Ray’s performance was giving me goose bumps. It was that amazing.

Answer: NOBODY! That’s because “The Star-Spangled Banner” was replaced by “America the Beautiful” and sung by Vicki Carr.

Eight more days of this hype. I’ll be so glad when 5:30 pm arrives on February 4. Enough already.

No more Neil Diamond in concert

Earlier this week, legendary singer and songwriter Neil Diamond announced he has Parkinson’s Disease, immediately retiring from touring. It’s sad he has to end touring like this, because Diamond certainly earned the right to end touring on his own terms.

I have never been to a concert, and it isn’t on my bucket list. However, if there was a list of artists I would want to go see in person, Diamond would have ranked pretty high, if not #1. Elton John is coming to Kansas City in February 2019 as part of his final tour, and I would pay to see him, as well. I would pay to see The Rolling Stones and the Eagles, and of course, The Beatles when they were together, but of course that wasn’t possible because they broke up six years before I was born.

Neil Diamond’s most famous song, according to some, is “Sweet Caroline”, which is an ode to Caroline Kennedy, the first live-born child of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Bouvier. I say first live-born, because sadly, a daughter was stillborn in 1956, one year before Caroline’s birth. After John F. Kennedy Jr was born in November 1960, shortly after his dad was elected President of the United States, another boy, Patrick, died only 48 hours after birth, a little more than three months before JFK was assassinated in Dallas.

Sweet Caroline has become an anthem for the Boston Red Sox, played during the eighth inning of every game at Fenway Park. It’s a fitting anthem, seeing the Kennedy clan is from Massachusetts–Robert F. Kennedy’s three and a half years as a U.S. Senator from New York notwithstanding–but it has been overdone. Too many teams are playing it, and I sometimes want to change the radio station when I hear it. It’s not that “Sweet Caroline” is a bad song, it’s just it’s not my favorite Neil Diamond song. Not be a long shot.

I have several Neil Diamond songs on my Apple devices, but “Sweet Caroline” is not one of them, nor will it ever be. I can be persuaded to play Neil Diamond on the jukebox, but I am not particularly keen on playing “Sweet Caroline”.

“Sweet Caroline” is part of his 12 Greatest Hits album which came out in 1974, but I have at least five songs higher on the list23.

Cracklin Rosie” is my favorite Diamond song. Went to #1 in October 1970. It is not about a woman named Rosie, but it’s about a wine. The others from that album are “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”, “Play Me”, “Song Sung Blue” and “Shiloh”.

My favorite earlier Diamond hits are “Kentucky Woman”, “Cherry, Cherry” and “I’m A Believer”. Yes, it’s the same song which shot The Monkees to fame in 1966, but I like Diamond’s version better. Of his later work, my favorites are “Desiree”, “Forever In Blue Jeans”, “America” and “Heartlight”, which gained fame for being on the soundtrack to E.T.

Parkinson’s is a cruel fate, and Diamond is one of the three most famous people it has afflicted, joining Michael J. Fox and Pope John Paul II. The only good news here is having someone notable should spur fundraising for Parkinson’s research, the way it has with Fox.

Update 1955 2018/1/26: Norton’s band is playing “Sweet Caroline” as the boys basketball team warms up before its game vs. Colby.