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My Personal Side

By Craig Hastings
The column below was actually written by me intended to be published in last week’s Journal.  Due to holiday print schedules it was submitted too late to make it in last week’s paper.  In this column you will read me speak about Doug.  I’ve included Doug in several of my columns over the past fourteen years that I’ve been writing.  Sadly, I learned this morning (Thursday) that my very good friend Douglas Grimm passed away the night before.  Doug’s passing is a tough one for me.  Doug and I were inseparable in the 80’s and 90’s.  Three or four nights a week Doug and I were a team.  We shared nothing work related but did share most everything evening entertainment related.  I can’t begin to estimate the number of highway miles we traveled together on our way to a nightclub destination.  We’ve even been to Las Vegas together to experience the nightlife activity there and how it compared to that here in Illinois.  We discovered a pace and expense neither of us would have ever been able to sustain on a regular schedule.  I have so many stories I could tell you about our journeys in search of three or four hours of fun and friends.  I’ve spent more seat time with Doug than I have with anyone else in my life.  I can count on one hand with fingers leftover how many friends I’ve shared my closest personal secrets. 

I’ve known Doug most of my life but it wasn’t until I was nineteen years old that we connected and so began our close friendship.  Doug was a superstar at a nightclub in Champaign called, “Bradley’s”.  (Remember, back in the day Illinois allowed nineteen year olds to consume alcohol for a brief two years)  A superstar in the sense that Doug was the premier DJ at Bradley’s, he was responsible for the disco era lightshow in the building along with the incredible sound system, and most importantly people liked Doug and respected him.  I was brand new to disco and all of the fast pace lifestyle it demanded.  Along with two or three other experienced clubbers from Tuscola, Doug showed me the do’s and don’ts to surviving the craziness.  It wasn’t long before Doug and I were going three and four nights a week someplace and if anyone else wanted to tag along they were welcome.  The rest of our merry band of four or five dropped out one by one over time but not us.  We acted like a couple of High School kids the evenings before our trips.  Embarrassingly, Doug and I discussed what we were going to wear most nights and who we hoped to see show up.  However, any of you that knew Doug knew that most of the time he was going to wear a suit with the sportcoat.  Doug was a sharp dresser and loved clothes.

I didn’t do suits but a tie with the ever so popular at the time Members Only jacket were in my closet.  I think I owned three different colors of Members Only jackets.  What a nerd!  Oh well, most other guys were wearing the same or those ungodly “pleather” jackets.  Pleather was some thin plastic crap that looked kinda like leather but, indeed smelled just like plastic.  Bump up against a lit cigarette with one of these on and your sleeve might burn up before you could put it out!  Not to worry, the underlying polyester sleeve would have protected your arm!  Anyway, I’m going off the rails a bit.  In no time under the guidance and instruction Doug provided me I became a seasoned veteran just like him.  I (we) never got arrested nor did I (we) ever get ourselves in a predicament that we weren’t able to talk our way out of before it went south on us. 

Tonight I feel as though half of my entire life, half of my life’s history, has been taken from me and I was powerless to intervene.  I don’t and haven’t had many really close friends in my life.  Just two or three others and none of them share what Doug and I have shared.  They all still survive.  Doug is the first to pass and I can tell you this is hitting me hard and I fear it will be long lasting.  Wouldn’t it be great if Fred Holste was here?  Doug loved Fred and I’ve told you what I thought of Fred myself.  Now would be a good time.  Four days ago Doug and I talked for nearly an hour about Ancient Aliens and how sure we were that our own government was on the brink of telling us all just a little bit of what they have known for decades about alien visits to earth.  Ok, Ok, so our lives had gotten much more boring as we aged!  When we could no longer dance and stay up late we had to get into something that was somewhat exciting!  We shared a fascination with outer space and the “what if” aspects of other forms of life and space travel.

Farewell good friend.  I’ll miss you and you will be dearly missed by many others.  I hope you’ve found what we’ve talked about and what we hoped would be possible.  If you have saved me the same spot I had before.  I’m selfish enough not to say to you, “See ya soon” but I know you understand why I’m staying where I’m at for as long as my ticket lasts.  Time flies and I’ll join you soon enough the way it is.  Please don’t demonstrate that infamous spin move.  You know, the one where you fall down and I have to act like I don’t know you the rest of the night!  Below is last week’s unpublished story.               

I’ve been sitting around today thinking about where I would be and what I would be doing if I was say, twenty-eight again. I was having the times of my life in my mid twenties and thirties.  Doug, Virgil, and I were pretty tight back then and we were driving three and four nights a week to some club in Central Illinois.  Champaign and Springfield had several places to choose from depending on what night of the week.  You see, everyone of these places had their “Specials” nights and all were on a different night.  So, the special pretty much determined our direction for the evening and the time we needed to leave town.  Then along came Decatur Illinois.  Decatur would be a new adventure all of its own.  Decatur would tempt Gus, Tim, or Jake joining the caravan now.  But, today I wondered what we could or would have been able to do had COVID-19 invaded our club life. 

How much our lives would have been changed!  Especially mine for sure.  How few stories I would have to tell and embellish a bit the years that followed.  I met a lot of good people and I met a lot of not so good people too.  I don’t regret the not so good ones.  These people made some of the late nights “interesting” to say the least.  Rule one; never, never, never, tell someone what you really did for a living.  This would be the best way to track you down if your home address was never discussed.  I always used the newspaper cover.  I knew enough about it to fake my way through a conversation had anyone pressed me about what the job entailed.  I tell you this because the three of us ended up in a place or two that we really did not belong.  Unfortunately we arrived without knowing exactly what we were going to see when we got there.  We were living and learning as we went.  Three nicely dressed corn cobs wearing Timex watches trying to fit in where caviar, tuxedos, and a Rolex were the norm. 

Virgil had the most impressive cover of the three of us.  He always told everyone he played football for the San Diego Chargers.  He looked the part too.  He was a muscle bound, bench pressing Hulk back then and he somehow could talk the talk if pressed on the ins and outs of playing NFL Football.  On occasion however his presence forced Doug and I to do some quick thinking and even faster talking to keep him out of more than one fight.  On just one occasion I was a little bit too late and off Virgil went to jail for the night.  Fortunately nothing ever became of those charges.  This happened in Decatur at a club called “The Limelight”.  Usually if we were too late to intervene in the discussion we could get him loaded up and out of town before it was too late.  Having a guy like Virgil running with you was a good thing more times than not.  If the end of the night went south in a parking lot and everyone was exiting and trying to get to their cars, Virgil was the guy to have parting the ocean in front of you.  When he got excited he got this menacing look on his face.  Add that face to his enormous self and all a person needed to do was follow close behind.  Not everyone got along with Virgil but Doug and I understood him better than most.  I was devastated to learn of his death in an automobile accident.  He died in a one vehicle accident one morning on his way to a softball tournament in Danville.

Which brings me to the second most important activity I couldn’t have participated in had COVID-19 be around.  Softball tournaments.  I played some fourteen years on a traveling slowpitch softball team.  My dad coached and sponsored the team.  He picked up the tab for all the entry fees and overnight motel stays when required.  We played as far away as Detroit when we qualified for the national finals in our division.  We played most every weekend all summer long all of these years.  On top of this we played locally in a league that used Ervin Park as our home field.  The softball field out there today was built to accommodate several Tuscola teams and our league play.  There were as many as eight teams in that league most years.  Today there isn’t enough interest to field one entire team.  What do you think Jack L.?  Think you and I could get a bunch of old guys together to play one last game!?  I say one game because at the end of the game it would take the rest of the summer and fall for us to recover from our injuries. 

Someone tell me please!  What in the world would my generation have done for entertainment and more importantly, physical activity had there been some pandemic holding us in?!  What are the guys in their twenties and thirties doing around here to keep themselves involved in life?!  Heck, my time has come and gone and I thank God most nights before I close my eyes for the simple pleasures in life my friends and I enjoyed.  Sure, we took all of this for granted back in the 80’s and 90’s because there was so much out there to do just for the taking!  Jeez!  The only guy wearing a mask that I ever remember was the Lone Ranger! Today the only guy not wearing a mask could be labeled the newest Lone Ranger or Lone something or other.  I’m sure there would have been enough push back from the players that we would have disbanded our softball teams should we be required to wear masks.  Especially so if our families and friends couldn’t sit in the stands.  Speaking of which, how much more unfair can life be for those families that have college level and professional level athletes participating in all sports and they can not attend live and in person to witness such moments!?  Think of it!  A professional mom or dad participating in a sport and their own children can not be there to be part of this great life changing adventure!!!

For many years now I’ve been nothing more than a homebody.  I don’t do much outside and off of my own property unless it would be at work.  How my life has changed but only because this is the way I want to finish it out.  I’ve done more and enjoyed more than any one person could ever hope to experience in a simple life such as mine.  I have no complaints and don’t feel cheated from anything.  This COVID-19 thing didn’t fall upon us until well after I slowed down to a crawl but, what about those people say under fifty?  What are they doing and what will they never be able to do and enjoy because they aged past the end of the aftermath of this pandemic?  Will this pandemic end without a relapse of it’s beginning?  How long will the younger generations be held back and deprived of the simple activities of life you and I enjoyed so much? 

I don’t have Facebook.  I don’t tweet.  I don’t have a  twitter account.  I don’t respond to emails unless from my boss or to sales deals I started.  But, I do hear things about all four.  Recently I was shown and got a chance to read some bits posted on two of them.  It seems some Tuscola folks decided to host an under a tent event with live music performed by a band from my TCHS past. The event took place outside in an area that spanned a football field of square footage if a person chose to social distance that far.  The music could also easily be heard for such a distance.  No I didn’t go but I did drive by on three occasions just to witness the turnout.  I was taken back in two different senses of the phrase.  First I was taken back by the large number of people in attendance.  Secondly I was taken back listening to the music from an era reminding me of my youth.  Both were pleasant for me to witness.

I don’t remember a crowd that large gathering in downtown Tuscola for one event since the last days of the “Old Fashion Days” sales events of years long ago.  How could this be?  One band, under one very large tent, performing on a chilly night, little to no promotional effort beforehand, and the most beat down of all…COVID-19 pushback.  I tip my hat to the members of the Backstage Boogie Band! This event was a rushed together, throw it to the wind and seeing where it lands, what the heck let’s try it, and it was a rock’in success!  Why?  I think because it was something many folks of Tuscola needed.  And I mean really needed in a sense enough was enough of being contained and feeling caged by government mandates.  Some people in Tuscola, and there were a large number of them, needed an event like this to get back to feeling a sense of normalcy back in their lives. 

So why didn’t I go if this was such a grand event?  Because I told you earlier, I just don’t do these things anymore but I enjoy witnessing other people getting energized just like I used too.  I did enjoy cruising around the blocks in a hot rod just like I would have in the 70’s!  Of course in the days to follow many of the attendees or attendees in general were ridiculed and hypocritized for not wearing masks and/or not keeping social distance from whoever they might want to talk too.  Really?  This was an outdoor event. The majority were adults.  Everyone attending chose to attend.  Many had masks and just didn’t wear them every moment they were there. I did observe some social distancing by groups of people holding drinks in their hands.  I believe this event served to better the mental health of all in attendance which is just as important if not more so than their physical health.  Bravo to all of you that weathered the storm of the critics.  I pray all of you suffered no ill effects of attending this event!

Finally, I had to chuckle thinking about Doug and Virgil wearing masks on the dance floor of the Limelight Nightclub in Decatur!  Yep, if a guy wanted to get beat up, wear a mask on the dance floor of The Limelight!!  I wonder if the results of a mask might have gotten me waiting for someone to ask me to dance?!  (Yep, way too shy to ask myself!  Doug would ask for me unbeknownst to me though!  Some of those he asked for me I really wish he hadn’t!)  I’ll stop now before I get all political and go off the rails about this pandemic!  May all of you see this pandemic event to its end and remain in good health.

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