Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How I Got Another Mom

Growing up in New York, I spent many an evening at a friend's house hanging out with his family and joining them for meals. It got to the point that I started to refer to my schoolmate's mother as "Mom", and it just kinda stuck. She wasn't the only adopted mom of mine in NY, but she was my favorite. (And yes, my real Mom is just fine; I just sort of collected adopted moms along the way thru life)

Eventually I moved out here to the Las Vegas area (just about 10 years ago as of this writing). I had been working in my new office for probably only a few weeks at the time, slowly getting to sort-of know some of the over 100 employees in the building. My previous office in NY had only about 15 routes in it, so there were maybe 2 dozen people there on any given day. Everybody knew everything about everybody, whether you wanted to or not. I was kinda glad to be going to a big office, with a large population of employees, where I hoped I’d just be an anonymous cog, blending in unnoticed…yeah, that didn’t last too long…

Some of my personality was showing on this particular day, as I came back to the office with my mini boom box blasting music. Never being sure of what route I was going to be on that day, I carried this thing around instead of a Walkman for my tapes (pre-iPod & iPhone days, kiddies), as I could leave it playing while driving and hopping in and out of the truck to deliver mail at boxes. Meant a lot of rechargeable batteries, but it was worth it. It’s almost impossible for me to not be hearing music or comedy on a constant basis. It quiets both the brain and the tinnitus.

As I unloaded my truck and made my way into the office with my stuff, my music maker was perched atop my empty trays. As the music emanated quite loudly, a female employee approached me. “Is that Louie, Louie?” she asked, half to be sure it was that song, because it was being covered by Motorhead, and half because…well, here’s why…

This woman, who I barely knew, and frankly, I can’t remember now if I even knew her name at this point, stopped right in front of me and, hands-on-hips, had asked me, “Is that Louie, Louie?” My response…”Yup.” She then asked, hands remaining on her hips, “How old are you?“ “28.“ Her response? To have her hands shoot up her sides from her hips to just under her armpits and shriek, “I HAVE CHILDREN OLDER THAN YOU!” I responded the only way I could think of…


Big goofy grin on my face, arms outstretched, I’d found my adopted Mom in my new home. It stuck, as 10 years later, she’s still Mom. It stuck so much that our most senior citizen, the now 76 year old carrier (that I used to tell people on his route that he was dead) calls her Mom, even though he’s got her beat by something approaching 20 years. Although if you ask her, she’s only 38...

Blog Post Soundtrack; M.O.D., Tool, Brant Bjork (selections from his Saved By Magic album), Misfits (several tracks live in Boston in 1983, including a great Black Flag cover), Minutemen, Pearl Jam, White Stripes, Foo Fighters, Simon & Garfunkel, Soundgarden, Yawning Man, Parannoyd, and, of course, Motorhead covering Louie, Louie…

Sunday, February 21, 2010

An Open Letter To Graig Nettles

A very important part of my youth was sports. I was a huge devotee of New York sports teams, in particular the Giants and the Yankees. I was a fan thru many a lean year for the Giants, so it was rather gratifying to see them win a couple Super Bowls when I was still a big fan. I started following the Yankees just in time to catch their mid to late 70's success, so I was kinda spoiled with them at first. I stuck with them thru their lean decade of the 80's though, and then was pretty much out of pro sports before their return to glory.

I've gotten extremely burned out on sports in the last couple decades, finding it rather hard to pay attention to the exploits of millionaire convicted felons and drug addicts whose sole reason for existing is to pound their own chests and jump around like idiots in an effort to be highlighted on SportsCenter, caring nothing for the team's fate, or for the regular-joe working stiffs who devote far too much of their family's income to supporting these greedy selfish bastards.

The following is a letter I wrote to Graig Nettles, Yankee third baseman from 1973 thru 1983. I was crushed the day he was traded to the San Diego Padres in early 1984, due to his book Balls that was about to be published speaking in less-than-flattering terms about George Steinbrenner, the Yankee owner who was just about the worst thing to happen to professional sports in this country. Regardless, this letter was written and sent to Nettles in April of 2009, and I post it now because despite my modern cynicism, I was once more...pure...

Dear Graig Nettles,

My name’s Ken Fries, and I grew up being a huge Yankees fan, and in particular, you were my favorite player. Even though I lived in Queens, I always preferred the Yankees over the Mets (although I followed them too). I was around 4 or 5 when I first started following baseball, and while I enjoyed Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner, and the other Mets announcers, I really came to like Phil Rizzuto and Bill White (I didn’t really care for Frank Messer at the time…I watch old telecasts now and realize how great he was too!). So that’s what probably drew me to be more of a Yankee fan in the first place.

At the time, my next door neighbors had season tickets, and I must have said something (pestered them is probably more like it…), because they wound up giving me their tickets for my 7th birthday, July 16, 1978 (sorry, I’m probably younger than your kids). My first time ever to Yankee Stadium…any MLB game, for that matter. Already a thrilling experience for any youngster, it got better when the seats turned out to be around 10th row, field level, between home plate and the Yankee dugout! I remember realizing that bringing my glove was now useless, being behind the screen…I was OK with that.

The thrill wasn’t even lost when the Yankees went on to lose 3-1 to the Royals (another thrill, seeing the Yankees go up against the hated and fierce rivals from the AL West), because the sole Yanks run came from a home run off the bat of…well, do I need to tell you at this point that it was you?!?

You couldn’t have given a 7 year old a better birthday present. Going to the Bronx at that time was like going to China for my family (aside from a yearly trip to Cape Cod at the end of summer every year…which I hated, because it meant that school was starting when we got back), due to our not traveling much. So getting to go to what was already a Mecca for me was fantastic. Just so you know how serious I was about my New York sports, I’d been a Giants fan since I was 2. Probably my earliest memory involves running around the house pretending I was Ron Johnson, a running back for the Giants at the time, with a football about half my size, leaping onto the top of the offensive line (which was the living room sofa, and I really had to leap to make it!). So to be able to then see my favorite player hit a home run in person on my birthday cemented that you would always be my favorite.

Turns out I couldn’t have made a better choice. As the years went by, I grew to respect and admire your work ethic, your leadership by example, and your wit and willingness to say something when the silliness or stupidity just got to be too much. I also loved the fact that you were not a glory-seeker; you did your job consistently and you did it well, because that’s what you were supposed to do. Mostly due to my parents, who were the same way, but also at least partially due to you, I turned out much the same. Granted, I’m a mailman (for the last 13+ years), not a ballplayer (like I’d hoped…oh well), but still…

I actually did play Little League baseball for 4 or 5 years. I spent a good chunk of time in the outfield, but I also played my fair share of 3rd base, and I took my fielding responsibilities very seriously. I was always a better fielder than a hitter, but I tried my best at both. I also got to wear number 9, which was another thrill for me, especially when I was at third!

Your ability to see the humorous side of many bizarre and absurd situations is something else I always liked about you, and have incorporated into my daily life (you may or may not be surprised to know that the Post Office and the Yankee Bronx Zoo are remarkably similar…). Again, not that you are the sole influence, but you pick up certain things here and there from lots of sources over the course of existence, and you were definitely one of them. I need to read Balls again, I remember enjoying it immensely the first time.

Which I suppose brings me to the entire point of this. You’ll find nothing enclosed with this letter, because I’m not really looking for autographs. Besides, I prefer to have things signed by people I admire in person, so every time I look at whatever item, I’m reminded about the time I got to meet and briefly chat with them. I had such an opportunity with you at a card show in Long Island back in 1997, and I had you sign a few pictures of you I’d torn out of Yankee yearbooks many years before. They used to hang on the walls of my room, so it meant a lot to me that I was finally able to get you to sign them for me years later. One now is at the front of a binder containing dozens of your baseball cards, and another hangs framed on the wall of my home office, just off to my right. I’ve glanced at it a number of times while writing this, and it’s been in that spot probably since I got this house nearly 8 years ago.

So, my point, you ask? Pretty much just to say thank you. You played a large part in my formative years, although you obviously didn’t know it. So I just wanted to let you know that you did, and to thank you for it. It may not have been your responsibility (hell, you were just playing baseball!), but it sort of worked out that way. Thanks.

Hopefully I’ll run into you at another signing or something someday, and say hi and thanks in person, but for now, this will have to do.

Hope you are enjoying life and your family and everything else.

Have fun


Blog Post Soundtrack; A chunk of The Chemical Brothers' album Come With Us

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An Open Letter To Steve Martin

The following entry is a letter I sent to Steve Martin back in April of 2009, and aside from a few small changes for grammar and tense (that's tense as in "past and present tense", not "nervous and tense"...), this is exactly what I mailed out;

Dear Steve Martin,

Every once in a while a death makes me do things. I just found out today (April 15, 2009) about the passing of Clement Freud. Having well over a hundred different episodes of Just A Minute on my iPhone, I would rarely go more than a few days without hearing Clement’s melodious tones as I made my way thru the work day. Being a mailman with a large apartment complex to deliver, I could often go over an hour at a time without having any sort of interruption, other than the oh-so-fascinating pieces of mail to deliver, so music and comedy are huge for me. Being a fan of Clement’s wit, intellect, and rapid responses, especially for a man in his late 70’s and early 80’s (when the majority of my episodes are from within his lifespan), I often thought about sending him a letter just to let him know how much his humor has meant to me. So, being me, I of course never got around to it.

I just wanted to tell you that over the last 3 decades, you have made me laugh many, many, many times. I can remember quoting “Excuuuuse Me!” when I was about 7 or so, most likely from seeing you on The Muppet Show. I’ve recently being watching my Muppet Show DVD’s, and as much as I enjoy them all, your episode is a particular favorite. I have all of your comedy albums on the iPhone, and will hear tracks from them from time to time at work, and they always make me smile, no matter how many times I’ve heard them. It always struck me as some of the most clever and inventive material. My ‘heroes’ are George Carlin and Bill Hicks, for making us look at ourselves and challenging us to improve, and you rank somewhere near them in my comedy files. I love that most good comedians make you look at the everyday in a way that actually makes you think, if you’re willing to put in the effort. I listen to Monty Python, Richard Jeni, Mitch Hedberg, Eddie Izzard, Ross Noble, and yourself, and while all are different, at the same time, each of them makes you stop and look at something you’d ordinarily take for granted, and approach it from a different angle, and usually realize just how stupid it really is. Somehow, that’s comforting…

L.A. Story is one of my favorite films. I remember seeing it in the theater with a friend, and neither of us being quite sure of what we just saw. But I realized I was still thinking about it later, so I knew there was something to it that was worth it. I’ve got that on the iPhone too, and I’ll watch it every once in a while, enjoying every little joke that seems innocuous enough, but realizing they really do pack a punch, and have meaning. Because of that film, I became a fan of Django Reinhardt’s music (which kind of came full circle when I saw Dave McKean use some of his music in his short films…my favorite being ‘The Week Before’).

I also really enjoyed reading Born Standing Up. I voraciously read that over the course of 2 or 3 days, in any spare time I had. Enjoyed it immensely, as I always like learning more about people I admire. I can find out how the trick is done, and yet still appreciate the magic and the performance. And I admire a person who is so multi-talented, what with the magic, juggling, comedy, acting, writing…and an aficionado of art (I have a t-shirt of the Robert Crumb Weirdo cover you own from when your original art collection was at the Bellagio). I’m a comic book art collector myself, it is rather addictive. And I enjoy going to conventions, to meet artists I admire, and to get a chance to tell them how much I enjoy their work.

Basically, I wanted to thank you for being you. For making me use the brain. For expanding my musical horizons. For helping pass the time while I was at work. And for making me laugh.

Thanks Steve.


Ken Fries

Monday, February 15, 2010

Increasing Mass

With an average of a couple hours spent in the office every morning, the topic of conversation amongst us letter carriers can get interesting. Usually a lot of good-natured tearing each other to pieces is part of it…gotta have some fun. On one particular day, we got around to discussing what you wanted to be when you grew up, because, let’s face it, none of us has ever said, “When I grow up, I wanna be a mailman!” Just doesn’t ever happen…

So we made the rounds, and fireman, policeman, pro ballplayer, and other things like that came up. One woman, who at the time of this story must have been around 50, said that when she was a little girl she wanted to grow up to be a cocktail waitress…which got just about the reaction from everyone that you would expect; “What?!?” Granted, we’re living in Las Vegas now, but none of us are from here, and she was raised in Colorado, not exactly the capital of cocktail-waitressing. So, after a bit of hubbub died down, she was given her chance to explain the motive behind her unfulfilled career choice.

Turns out, her father had been a waiter in various restaurants and hotels, so as a little girl, she used to see a lot of the restaurant business, and she must have admired it, and it seemed like something she wanted to do. Okay, with that explanation, it seemed plausible, although still a little unusual. This is a rather unusual woman though, so it kinda fit.

Finally I queried as to what happened as to divert her from her dream of being a waitress and into the glamorous world of mail carrying. Before she could answer, another carrier, a nice guy, very short and thin, not anyone you would expect anything lethal out of, chirped out;

“She gained weight!”

…and the silence that came over the room was chilling. Eyes widened, jaws slackened, hands were clasped over mouths, plants wilted, birds fell from the sky... The author of this quote quickly realized that he may have crossed over into a land from which no man returns alive. Fortunately for him, the victim of this gibe has a wonderful sense of humor, and is more than capable of laughing at herself, and, although the look of shock on her face was genuine, it was quickly replaced with a big smile and a laugh, which in turn was everyone else’s cue to start laughing as well…it WAS pretty damn funny.

When we attended the memorial service of the little mailman who authored that quote a week later, we remembered him fondly…

Blog Post Soundtrack; Voivod, Rollins Band, Nuclear Assault, Kyuss, Pearl Jam (doing a live cover of a Neil Young song), The White Stripes (doing a live cover of a Brendan Benson song), The Beastie Boys, James Brown, Zeke, The Misfits, Minutemen, Judas Priest, Slayer (covering a Judas Priest song), Soundgarden, System Of A Down, The Specials (sort-of covering a Rolling Stones song)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Suspicious White Powdery Substance

Working for the Post Office at the time of 9/11 was an interesting experience. As part of my morning wake-up routine, when the alarm goes off, I shut it off, grab the remote, and turn on the TV. Flipping thru the channels and seeing nothing but crap and garbage on channel after channel usually annoys me enough to wake me up fully and get me out of bed. For whatever reason, on that particular morning I never once turned on the TV. Bizarre but true. I had no knowledge of anything amiss until I got to work and heard everyone else talking about it. I spent the next few days on the phone back to New York trying to locate everyone and make sure they were OK. I’m pretty sure had I turned on the TV that morning and seen what was going on I never would have gone to work.

The next few days were very unusual. Las Vegas has one of the busiest airports in the world. With no tall buildings outside of The Strip, it’s possible to see for miles in any direction. Consequently, any look to the east usually shows 4 or 5 planes making there way here with many potential bankruptcy filers. However, in the aftermath of 9/11, with all air traffic grounded, the skies were eerily empty and quiet. It was very odd and disturbing to be delivering routes with neither sight nor sound of a jet.

Fast forward a little bit, and we suddenly had the anthrax scare going around. Coming right on the heels of the World Trade Center attacks, everyone had instantly become uber-paranoid about everything, so now we were all going to die from anthrax poisoning. We had a safety talk in my office about anthrax one day, so I came in the following day wearing a t-shirt from the thrash metal band Anthrax along with a tape of one of their albums for my Walkman (yes, this was that long ago). I told one of my supervisors I had some Anthrax as I showed him the cassette…yes, I showed it to a supervisor who I knew would appreciate the joke…

Well, the paranoia hadn’t quite been quelled yet. The main processing plant for the Post Office in Southern Nevada is right next to McCarran Airport. A huge facility with dozens, probably hundreds, of employees on any given day. On this particular given day, the entire plant had to be evacuated and everyone had to mill about in the parking lot for a couple of hours twiddling their thumbs due to the discovery of a suspicious white powdery substance. This meant that no mail for the entire valley could be processed or sorted, no trucks could be loaded or unloaded, and that a giant metaphorical monkey wrench had been thrown into the works of the Post Office. A HazMat team was called in, and eventually came to the stunning conclusion…

…that the suspicious white powdery substance…

…that had been discovered…


…was Coffee-Mate.

Ladies and gentleman, I’m sure all of you were given a brain. Please try using it.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Morphine, The Hives, Van Halen, Fu Manchu, Blur, Mudhoney, AC/DC, Bad Radio, A Perfect Circle, John Lee Hooker, System Of A Down, Prong, Pearl Jam, Desert Sessions, Rollins Band, Henny Youngman, Queens Of The Stone Age, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nick Oliveri, Pink Floyd

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


People are always kidding me about being from New York City. The attitude, the accent (whaddya youse f*%kin’ talkin about?), the reputation for crime, the reputation for not being as clean, etc. My office is filled with people who are from everywhere else. Hardly anyone in Las Vegas over the age of 30 was actually born in Las Vegas. Since we’re all trapped in the office for a couple hours each morning, the conversation invariably turns to making fun of each other over whatever subject matter is handy. Place of origin is usually a good place to start, seeing as how we’re all from someplace different.

One time early in my tenure out here in Henderson, the toilets in the men’s room overflowed. A friend in the office, originally from western Canada (told you we were from all over), sent me in there, as he was aware of this calamity before I was. The stench, as you can imagine, was…interesting. When I came out all teary and misty-eyed, my friends, laughing, asked me if the odor was too much for me. “No”, I told them, fighting back the tears, “It just made me homesick!”

Blog Post Soundtrack; P. J. Harvey, Leadbelly, Queens Of The Stone Age, The Mars Volta