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Better know a commenter: philofthenorth

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The most prolific commenter in Royals Review's history, hailing from the great state of Alaska, philofthenorth.

philofthenorth in the wild
philofthenorth in the wild

The title-holder for most comments in this site's history should need little introduction. For the sake of the interview, assume that he formatted his answers with the first three words in the subject line (each having its first letter capitalized) and then capitalized the first letter of the rest of his response in the body of the comment.

While we're all much more than just being Royals fans, it is the tie that binds us. What brought you to the Royals' front stoop knocking on the door to be let in? Perhaps more importantly, why did you stay?

I am the youngest of a baseball obsessed family from Kansas City, KS. I had baseballs tossed to me to catch or hit since I could walk. I happened to be very good at it. I was seven when I heard someone listening to an A's radio broadcast while I was watching a game at Kensington Park. I was hooked on the A's, and the Royals just became the logical successor to this. It took me most of my youth to realize I like to watch baseball more than play it. It just came easy to me, like playing guitar, which I actually enjoy much more.

kidball

I'm not sure why, but it's hard for me to picture you as the youngest in the family. How many siblings? What do they do? How do you relate to them?

I have two brothers and one sister. My third brother died in a car wreck on US 24 between KCK and Lawrence in 1958. The remaining siblings are all 6 years apart in age, family planning from hell. My brothers are both retired, one from the USAF and Falcon Jet, the other from British Petroleum. My sister does something in Tennessee. I’m not sure what, but she’s as odd as I am. She goes to church a lot, I think.

Is your brother still up in Alaska with you, or did he head back?

He's still here, living in Kenai, about 20 miles away. I don't hang out with him much, but I'll do anything for him. He has his family to keep him company, and he's a 24/7 Fox News watcher. I just don't know what to say to him about the world that doesn't end up a bad political discussion.

Do you see much of the rest of your family?

My other brother is in Florida, and my sister is in Chattanooge. I saw them about 10 years ago, and I need to do it again. I see my cousins in Arizona more than anyone else. We were very close when we were growing up in KCK, and they're all into baseball. My cousin Barbara in Tucson sent me a Christmas card with a photo af all her brood dressed in Royals gear, which is a new development as far as I know. The bandwagon keeps on growing.

Standard dating profile questions: Age? Sex? Height? Hair color? Marital status? Kids?

Sixty in March, yes whenever possible, 5' 6", mousy brown/gray, widowed, no kids, never planned one way or the other, just didn't happen.

I think anyone in a long-term relationship can empathize with what you must have gone through when your wife passed, at least in the abstract, while being terrified of that fate befalling them. What was Ursula like?

We had 18 years together. That’s more than many will ever have. We were an odd couple, and she was fond of saying neither of us could be married to anyone else. She was probably right. I was her third, but she had been single for 15 years. She was my only one.

Where did you meet?

We met the only way we possibly could have, an entirely random chance encounter. I was meeting with an Elvis impersonator on business. She was in the same bar because her neighbors talked her into having a birthday drink with their friend, who I knew through my brother’s wife. After I shook hands with Elvis, I went to buy a birthday drink for their table, and a few hours later, Ursula and I left together. We were as amazed and confused as anyone. We tried to back it off, but we couldn’t. I was living with her in weeks, and we were married a few months later.

Are there still times where it feels like she's with you?

I still have very vivid dreams where she is here in the house with me. I even get the "Remember when we thought you were dead?" conversation sometimes. It’s very matter of fact. I enjoy it.

While many choose not to define themselves by their job, what do you do to make ends meet? For how long have you been plying that trade?

Like most musicians, I do something else for money. I yodel at helicopter pilots and record their antics for posterity. It's called dispatching.

holyunderagegirl

From what you've shared in the past, your guitar wheelhouse seems big enough to house jumbo jets. Plural. What are your weapons of choice?

I am an electric guitarist, and have played a Carvin SC90 for the last 20 years. It’s a good, versatile hunk of wood. It keeps me from having to play more than one guitar to do the variety of songs I do. If I had my druthers, I’d have a Telecaster, Stratocaster, Les Paul and maybe an ES335. I just bought a Stratocaster and dug out my ’74 Telecaster Custom, and I’m trying to talk myself out of buying a Les Paul. If my job situation stabilizes (see below), I’ll probably do it.

If you could play whatever you wanted and not necessarily what the people want, what would that be?

I’m a bar room rock/blues/country player, and I’ve been playing three piece and handling the lead vocals for years. That has shaped my style to fit the needs. I love being a small part of a big whole, doing the little things that make one song different from the other. I’ll play about any style, but if I have to play a whole night of anything I’ll slit my wrists. I used to do "Walk On By" (Leroy Van Dyke, not Dionne Warwick, but that would be so cool) and The Babys' "Too Far Gone" back to back, but it just pissed people off. I like pop music that was influenced by the hard core specialties (reggae, bluegrass, blues, etc.) more than the real thing for the most part.

Have you dabbled with songwriting?

Finding out I can’t write songs was a big disappointment. I really suck at it.

How the hell did you get into helicopter dispatching?

Unemployment. I was newly married and our plans went to total shit. I needed a job in Kenai in February. Job Service had one job on the board, Ramp Agent, SouthCentral Air, $5.00/hr.; I went for it never intending to stay. I was promoted almost immediately with a $1.50/hr raise and a 4/10 schedule which let me play music three nights a week, so I stayed. The next year I was promoted to running the freight office with another raise, and they never interfered with my weekends so I could play music on two nights a week. It paid the bills and not much more.

That ended when the general distress of the airlines in the ‘90s squeezed my little company out of the market. I went to work for the competition, and then transferred to their rotor wing division. After years loading helicopters, I moved into dispatching them ten years ago. It’s easily the best job I’ve ever had. Now the new management wants to move dispatch to a central location, so my job is in doubt. If it goes away, it’s been a good ride and I’ll do what I have to.

Where do you live now, and where did you grow up?

I'm in Nikiski, AK, a quaint drinking town. We don't fish much any more, but we used to. Ask me anything about KCK from Quindairo to 38th Street.

Like many, Alaska fascinates me. How did you get there?

My brother came up here in ’69. He worked for Phillips Petroleum in Kansas City, and they just opened a LNG plant here. He transferred up here, and in the summer of ’78 he more or less told me I was going to come up and take a look at the place. I almost didn’t go back, but I needed to quit my job and tie up some loose ends. I moved here a few months later.

How do you feel Alaska suits your disposition?

Freedom. It’s so cliché, but it’s true. It’s not like it used to be, but it’s still markedly different from living in the lower 48. I need to go out and see the way the other half lives occasionally so I can appreciate how different it is. We’re fucking it up as fast as we can, though.

doors shirt

What is your educational background/area of study?

I left HS in lily white west Topeka in '73 and have taken a few college courses related to banking and accounting. I probably could have pursued an English Lit degree, but I'm not upset that I didn't. It would have been easy for me, which seems to be my MO.

There's a prevalence of Royals Review regulars with a passion for literature, which obviously makes sense given who ran the site for so long. What authors are you into? What about them turns your crank?

I stopped reading books. When I did, I liked Vonnegut a lot. I’ve read most of his novels and short stories. Mother Night is my favorite book of all time; so prescient. I read John Irving’s stuff because of a girlfriend, and I liked it until Setting Free The Bears lost me half way through. I’ll always plug my "cousin" Will Blythe’s To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever any chance I get. He’s a writer’s writer, and I hope he has another book in him. He’s doing freelance things for various magazines now, as well as book reviews.

What's the best thing you've read in recent memory? Describe it as though you were trying to convince someone else that they should read it.

The Plague. I had an unplanned sabbatical with a large selection of horrible books to fill my time. The Plague saved me. Just the historical accuracy about the plague is worth the effort, but the subtext is sublime. Much more respect for Camus now.

Unplanned sabbatical? Is there something more there?

Just a really stupid, middle of the day DWI. I spent three days in what amounts to a really bad dormitory with minor criminals for company. I passed the time watching football and reading The Plague, the only decent book I could find in the "library."

With the understanding that obviously baseball and the Royals are an area of interest for you, what other hobbies and interests do you have?

Music is way more than a hobby to me. I play electric lead guitar and sing as much as I need to. I had a fishing jones, but I'm pretty much over that. My wife got me into birds and flowers, but the flowers were her thing in practice and my yard is pretty pathetic now. The birds are still here, though.

What did you fish for when you still had an interest? Sea, lake, or stream?

I fished obsessively for the first ten years up here. After growing up drowning worms in Wyandotte County Lake and paying to fish for carp, this was heaven. Trout in the lakes, salmon in the rivers, halibut in the ocean…it is fishing heaven. Tennis elbow (really severe) made me pretty much give it up for a while, and I never got back into it. I still have the equipment, so I might do it some, but not like I used to.

We all have a long list of stupid shit that we've done. What's the dumbest thing you've done?

I'm not really sure, but I woke up caked in blood in the back of a police car. Pretty sure it was stupid, if a bit heroic according to my lawyer.

Is that the only time you've been in the back of a squad car?

No, I’ve managed to find that seat of honor a few times. I don’t know when to shut up, but that’s what got me where I am, and I like it.

What's the funniest thing you've said to a cop that landed you in the back seat of a squad car?

I probably don't remember. The best thing I ever said to a cop was in response to the statement that he'd kill me if he ever found me alone. It was a traffic stop, with a friend of mine driving my car for some reason. We were standing on opposite sides of my car, looking across the hood. I said "Just drop the gun belt and we'll see who kills who right now." He laughed, got in his car and drove away. That was just before I moved away from Topeka. I think he realized he'd threatened my with a witness.

Describe yourself in three sentences or less.

Middle class kid with a family on the skids. I made the best of my situation. I like where I am.

What Royals Reviewer would you be most interested to meet in person? Why?

Our own JZ, because I like where he is going. I'd like to see his family farm some day.

Is there anything you feel like we've left uncovered that you'd like to throw out there?

Steinbeck. How could I forget him in discussing authors. I've read most of his stuff, and it has definitely influenced my world view. I also read most everything Rand wrote, but the phase passed quickly. I was just out of high school.

I tried to send some video footage of me playing guitar, but it was too large to send. I'll think of more, I'm sure, but I think there is enough here to publish. I'm sure the good folks at RR will have some good questions for me, too. Thanks for taking the time to do this. I've enjoyed the series immensely.

Thank you for being so kind as to take part in the interview.