Chains, my baby’s got me locked up in chains.
And they ain’t the kind that you can see.
Whoa, oh, these chains of love got a hold on me, yeah.
Chains, well I can’t break away from these chains.
Can’t run around, ’cause I’m not free.
Whoa, oh, these chains of love won’t let me be, yeah.
Try replacing the word, ‘Chains’, with the word, ‘Change’, in the lyrics of the song, ‘Chains‘. The song had been sung before in 1962 by The Cookies and other Liverpudlian bands but with no real success.
So how did Gerry Coffing and Carole King, as a married couple, know that with a change in artists in ’64, by having George Harrison, backed by the vocals of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, record the song instead of keeping it with The Cookies, would turn the tune into such a huge hit on the ‘Please Please Me’ album. What a change that change made.
Yeah I know, not all the words fit but ‘change’ the other words a little bit and you will recognize similarities in your life. When a change comes at you and subsequently changes your life, is it for the better or for the worse? Ya just don’t know until you try it.
We all go through changes and some of us accept them willingly, some of us voice opposite opinions loudly and some of us fight it to the end and remain unchanged.
Then reality smashes into us sooner or later like a blazing underhand softball pitch hitting us square in the middle of our foreheads and we wake up. Change is good you say? Sometimes? Yes sometimes but not always.
I’ve faced many changes in my life. Barely surviving some of them it seemed at the time and came out golden on others. Changes in stock market trends, music, business, weather, relationships, friends and loved ones. The list goes on and on. But looking back, I can think of one that really changed my life’s path for the good even though it was bad.
Time Travel Time
I had just turned sixteen, maybe seventeen, by a month in Chicago at Arlington Race Track when my Dad decided he needed a change. He had sent Mom home to Phoenix two weeks before and I had another week or two before I followed her. I didn’t know for sure then although I suspected it but his loved ones around him were becoming anchor chains and he needed to escape the weight of the links of despair.
Speeding along at a raging 55 on the Eisenhower, our fiery discussion was focused on my missing twenty-dollar bill he had taken from me the night before to buy a couple of pizzas and bring them back to the stalls for myself and Mudbug to have for dinner. That didn’t happen.
In the days before, Dad would leave the track after the last race and go directly to the bar he frequented to meet up with the, ‘Redhead’, a woman he’d been having an affair with for four or five years. He would start drinking at the track and get just a little buzzed to be friendly, especially if his Jock’s mounts won a race or two, then go to the gin mill and meet up with her. Mom thought he was doing business until he’d come home smashed and incoherent. Mom knew something was about to change in her life. That’s why she agreed to leave early.
Habitually he would flop onto the couch seconds after walking through the door and within minutes he was snoring up a storm with a water-glass half full of Vodka poured neat, while carefully holding his treasure tight in his hand across his chest. I had seen it so many times, that I decided to change it up a little and left the Arlington home to live with Mudbug on the track. The cot accommodations in the shed row were way better than lying in bed listening to the occasional middle weight boxing match in our house off the track.
Dad would stop by in the morning and talk to the trainer I worked for and occasionally ask if I needed anything. I never did. He’d stroll off down the shed row and out the end to his car to make his appointments with other trainers. The white Chrysler, actually more tan than white, would slowly pull away leaving a light cloud of dust from where the exhaust vapors hit the ground.
Around noon, I’d see his car roll by on his way to the track to watch the day’s racing knowing he was dressed in his usual white shirt and dark brown slacks. If our shed had a horse running that day he would stop and say, “Good luck today Billy,” then leave. If we had nothing running, he would just ease the long car by us on the dirt road to the Clubhouse parking.
A couple of years before, he would always stop and bring us homemade submarine sandwiches Mom had prepared. After the races he would come pick me up and take me home for dinner and bed rest for the next day of grooming or hot walking.
“Ya Papa has changed. Co faire?” Mudbug asked in his slow Cajun way.
“I don’t know why but your right, he has. Everything is changing. Been changing for years. It’s not just Dad but Mom too. Hell, the whole family is becoming different from it was.” I paused. “Not sure what to make of it but your right buddy. Well just have to see what happens next I guess,” I said as I snapped a rolled bandage at him.
Mudbug flinched backward and smiled as he looked down at the beaten down path where the horses walked around the shed row. Shasta, our row’s dog who had died the year before, left us a baby. We named him Dog thinking that was funny. Dog instantly came alive with the snapping sound of the bandage and lunged at him, “Passe’. Passe’ Dog!” he firmly said as he waved his bother away.
I watched as the dog, Dog, settled back down and returned to the feed bin to sleep the rest of the day in the shade.
Mudbug rose from his groom stool and started to walk to his quarters for a nap while the races were running. “Weh, weh,” Mudbug shook his lowered head, “I sure miss ya Momma’s Po’ Boys.”
“Yep, I do too. I most certainly do buddy. Most certainly.”
Dad pulled the Chrysler into the safety lane on a rise of the freeway. The mile marker sign was just on the other side of the guard rail adjacent to my door. Cars were whizzing by at lightning speed. Just the flashing images of them would pass by in Dad’s window as I had yet to stop ranting about the lousy twenty bucks and the loss of two wonderous pizzas. The car’s engine tumbled into idle.
“What is wrong with you?” I yelled. “It’s like you don’t give a shit about me anymore. I know you hate Mom. Do you hate me now too?” I had never sworn in front of either parent and the thought of, ‘Uh Oh, I just said ‘shit’. How could I have possibly said ‘shit’ to Dad. Holy shit, I’m in for it now’, crossed through my brain like a Wall Street ticker tape on fire.
I took in another breath to continue and distract the bad mistake but only got out a couple of more words when Dad broke in sternly. “Billy, do you think you’re big enough to handle this?” He waved his open palm at me.
“Yes!” I fired back.
He calmly said, “Okay, then get out and figure it out.”
I thought he meant to get out and we would talk more then maybe push each other around and he’d pay back my twenty. Dad punched me once on the day of the first Moon landing years before so why wouldn’t I think the same was coming but this time I was bigger and faster. That twenty was coming home.
I opened the car door and got out with my back to the guard rail. I slammed the door expecting Dad to get out too. “Well!?” I leaned over and yelled above the other car noises and at the closed window. Dad was just sitting still looking at me. He looked down at the steering wheel and put the car in drive.
I watched the car’s tail fins leave, gaining the speed of the other cars then disappearing over the rise of the roadway. I sat dumbfounded on the guard rail for at least thirty minutes before realizing he wasn’t coming back for me. I looked down at the street below as I stepped over the rail. That’s when I noticed something. Dad had stopped at the right mile marker because he knew where he was on the tollway. In the distance to the north several blocks, was the town of Cicero where my Grandmother’s restaurant was located. I would go there and get help. Dad had this planned from the beginning.
Grandma Betty gave me two hundred dollars and told me to go home. “Here, take this and just go home sweetie.” She knew.
Home was in Phoenix but I knew Sportsman Park Race Track and Hawthorne Race Course was just west of where we were so I walked toward the setting sun. I knew a couple of trainers there so I could get help getting back to Arlington. One day and night at Sportsman and I was already hitching a ride in a horse trailer to New Mexico and eventually from there to my home in Phoenix for good.
I never saw Mudbug, my dearest childhood friend ever again and only saw my Father three times briefly before he died some thirty-plus years later. I was told he had been asking to speak to me while in the hold of his death’s dementia. I never had a chance to speak to him. Wish I could change that for sure but I was still mad. The doctors called it Alzheimer’s like some guy or doctor named Alzheimer owns the disease. I wouldn’t want to own something that bad unless I could cure it.
Dad never met my children, he probably didn’t know my wife’s name. That day on the Eisenhower, the man I had looked up to more than Zeus, the supreme protector, had finally decided to shed the weight from one of the links of his heaviest chains, his chain of love, , , just like in the song. Difference was that this chain was the chain of me.
Right now in my life, there are many changes happening. I’ve endured thousands of them in the past as have so many others. Kids are gone, kind of how I left but without the disguised angers and the unbearable torments. Grand babies and new grand babies, higher education celebrations galore, new homes and new homelands called Denver, relationship understandings and solid commitments between myself and a lifelong soul mate. Believe it or not today, I have a goal of more patience and kindness. Believe me, I’m not a patient man at all and can’t understand bad service. I’m trying to change that.
When Dad sent me away via the guard rail by the mile marker, he knew my life’s change would be for the best. Somehow that man knew. Little did I as his understudy. I should have paid more attention to the detail.
Time Travel Time
The Mayor, my best of friends, and I were at the track discussing worldly events, challenging news reports and over-rated corporate earnings. There was even a resolute discussion of the destruction of the Antarctica Ice Sheet. In actuality, we were just looking at the form for tomorrow’s race cards through the clear lens of an empty beer’s glass bottom.
Subject matters for us change quicker and more often than a Subaru timing belt. Segues are cheap and plentiful. Earlier in the day, the Mayor had blown out a side rivet in his overalls and he blamed it that he had a wallet in his back pocket and that had taken up the space the canvas needed. I knew then he had to change his home’s scale or his weight.
“You know, this world is changing fast. So fast it’s turning heads and not everyone likes it at all. I’m not a race fan of change,” the Mayor said as he set down his bubbling draft.
His hair was long from underneath his hat and cow-licked over his right ear as if he’d just woke up from his afternoon nap. He hadn’t yet had his annual haircut from the Russian barber on the corner near his home.
“What do you mean?” I asked, tapping the salt shaker into my beer. I like salty beer. So what?
I continued, “It’s been changing for years. It’s just that they’ve ramped it up a bit and now people are noticing it.”
“I know, I know. Work, money, the kids. They’ve all changed and not all for the good,” he took in another swallow of the diamond-priced Bud Light.
I touted, “The track hasn’t changed at all. Turf is still the crappiest track in the country but I still love it even if Simms doesn’t. He’ll never change it.”
The bartender walked up, “You two need another?”
“Sure,” I answered. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a ten and laid it on the bar. “Can I get futures in this stuff?”
“Bud Lights, one bottle and one draft, right?” she smiled.
“Yep. Here, it’s my turn.” I pushed the crumpled ten toward her. “Keep the change.”
“Ya got that right. This place will always be a dump,” the Mayor agreed. “Nothing will change.”
I looked at him, “Listen to me. Change is good whether or not it’s about changing or changes. Bad changes result in good changes because bad changes are noticed by everyone most of the time. Good changes go by the wayside and are taken for granted whether you like them or not.”
The beer glass made a clink on the table as he picked it up. The Mayor wiped up the moisture with the single-ply bar napkin. He stared into the foam, in his usual intellectual thoughtful pause.
I interjected a thought into his thinking before he could speak, “Everything changes. Everything does it and does it fast. Changes happen every second of every day. That’s a good thing. What’d ya want? A loaf of a stale bread life?”
The Mayor looked up, “Not everything changes. Some things remain the same from the start to the finish. Wire to wire, outta the gate.”
“That’s not true, everything has to change,” my voice raised. “Look, can you even Imagine that Yesterday changed when that, the worse possible thing that could happen, happened. It was fast and it was so much for the worse, yet we all just moved on. Some cried and some didn’t care. Even today, some people still act like nothing ever happened or they don’t know how important it was that the music changed. The entire world will never know what we missed out on.”
“Yeah, Yesterday. The music changed. Imagine that,” I raised the glass and drank the last sip through the foamy top.
“When did yesterday change?” he asked again as his right eye leered at me with it partially closed in question.
I moved my napkin closer to me and set the glass down slowly then licked at my lips assuredly. The Mayor tilted his head toward my answer.
“Hello? I can’t imagine why the music changed yesterday?” he asked impatiently.
“Nope, you forgot again,” I firmly set the empty glass of beer in its place among the napkins. “It all changed then.”
“When?” he asked.
“The day John Lennon died.”
“The best part of life starts at the head of the stretch.”