Oct 142017
 

Look. I used some ironic Pittsburghese up there in that title and typically that is a pet peeve of mine but I figured since this is kind of a Pittsburgh tourism post thing, might as well add the full flavor, right YINZ GUYS?

Ugh.

Scott and Maya had left the itinerary of the day up to me, but they did express interest on going to the aviary at some point to watch the bats getting fed. I had no objections to this, but I will admit that the aviary is not something that I would have put on my own Pittsburgh travel itinerary. Not because I’m like, anti-birds or whatever, but because I honestly usually forget that this place even exists.

In fact, the last time (and maybe possibly even the only time?) I was ever there was when Chooch was 3 months old and I was adamant on taking him there for some reason even though Henry kept reminding me things like, “He’s only 3 months old” and “His eyes can’t even focus yet” and “He will never remember this.”

I think I got a discount for being a Pitt student maybe, and that was back when I was trying to milk it for all it was worth. So we went and two things happened:

  1. Chooch didn’t care
  2. Chooch doesn’t remember it (and I barely do, either)

I went to the aviary’s website the night before to see what the admission fee situation was like, and was surprised that it was only $15 (that seems reasonable) and that it’s apparently the largest in the country!

So after our Millie’s ice cream lunch, we walked over to the Gateway T station where some elderly couple, clad in Hawaiian button-downs and fanny pants, accosted us and started firing off questions; first they asked us if we were from Pittsburgh and I hesitated, unsure of my answer, because I was afraid of the questions that would follow. Turns out they were trying to get to the Carnegie Museum of Art and Janna and I tried to explain that they couldn’t get there by using the T and then the lady was pointing at a map like, “But it’s right there, can’t we just walk” and we just like, “Hey babe, that’s just where you catch the bus to get you there” but she was arguing with us about it and then the guy was like WHERE ARE ALL THE CABS which is the Pittsburgh equivalent of Pee Wee asking to see the Alamo’s basement, for real.

We suggested an Uber or Lyft but the lady was like, “I DON’T HAVE THAT APP” and honestly, their attitudes were pitiful and didn’t make me feel inspired at all to help them any further. Fucking swim there, it’s a beautiful day and the river’s right there, you know?

Ugh, talking to strangers is so exhausting.

Anyway, we got on the T and Maya was just like, “Aw, this is cute” because she and Scott lived in NYC, so…..the trolley here really is cute compared to a true urban transportation system. But I managed to get us off at the right stop (fine, Janna did – I’m not very familiar with the T past Gateway) and then we made it to the aviary on foot without getting lost so this day was shaping up to be quite the success. And all of my work friends were so worried about what I was going to do to these poor people!

Inside the aviary, I was reminded about how much I love birds and how so many of them remind me of my cats. There was one majestic owl in particular that made me mentally weep for Marcy. :( She always reminded me of an owl.

The penguins were especially delightful and showing off for us. Maya said their daughter is really into penguins so that’s just another check for the “pro Pittsburgh” column because HELLO OUR HOCKEY TEAM IS THE PENGUINS. Plus, they’re a better team than Nashville. *insert fingernail painting emoji*

I really liked this room because not only was there a Buffalo Bill’n flamingo, but Janna almost whacked in the head twice by free-flying birds and it was amazing.

You guys, I didn’t realize the bats were going to be so big!  I was expecting those little tiny fruit bat things that my dad used to taunt in our backyard by throwing a wiffle ball high up into the air and making them dive down for it. Sigh, fun times on Gillcrest Drive. These bats were like ACTUAL VAMPIRES. I was so stoked! These particular bats are Flying Foxes.

Janna mused, “Aw, they’re like foxes with wings.”

“That’s why they’re called FLYING FOXES, JANNA,” I yelled. God!

Anyway, the feeding was way more exciting than I ever could have imagined. One of the aviary workers came into their habitat with a pail of watermelon, grapes, and…papaya? I can’t remember what the third fruit was now. You know me and my details! Let’s just gloss over everything as usual.

While the lady was hand-feeding them (they’re particular little suckers! GET IT—SUCKERS?!), she relayed some facts about them, like how big their wingspan is (like 4 feet or something) and then started talking about the dangers of unsustainable palm oil so now I’m obsessed with it and even downloaded the app that she recommended so that when I buy Halloween candy, I can make sure it’s from a company that’s not an enemy of the rain forest. (Look up “sustainable palm oil” in your app store and join me!)

Major props to Scott and Maya for suggesting the aviary. I had a lot of fun there and felt that just watching the bat feeding alone was worth the price of admission.

While we were there, I sent Chooch a picture of some giant condor that reminded me of his idiot cat Drew and he was so angry that we wnet to the aviary without him. I mean, even before he knew we were going to the aviary, he was mad that he got left behind, but have you met Chooch? He is the worst when it comes to things like this and would have totally impeded upon the day and started to complain that his hip hurt from walking too much. He’s pretty dramatic.

We capped off the day of sightseeing with some coffee at Colony Cafe, where we got to relax and get to know Scott and Maya some more. They are so freaking easy to talk to, it’s kind of maddening. How do I unlock this life skill?!

After that, we all walked back to the Wood Street trolley station, where Janna had a total tourist moment by not being able to put money on her Connect Card, so Scott gave her a dollar so that she could just be a TRUE N00B by paying cash on the T. Oh, Janna. While we waited for the T, some crazy Steelers fan tried to engage me in FOOTBALL TALK but I shot him down, only for Scott to be like, “I know football things” so then they started talking about sports things and I thought to myself, “If they move here, they will be just fine.” Honestly, all it takes is even one small nugget of knowledge of one sport, any sport, and you can get by. Plus, Maya accidentally was wearing a Batman shirt in the official color palette of Pittsburgh so I think people were mistaking her for a fan of the Pirates/Penguins/Steelers, pick one, any one.

(I think it was on the trolley where we heard people talking about Nashville for the second time that day, and we all exchanged looks because what were the odds, you know?)

Anyway, we parted ways with Maya and Scott when the trolley rolled up to Station Square. They were going to check out Mt. Washington via the incline and I really wanted to do that too but Janna had a pie to make and I had to go home and get all of the pie party decorations out of the basement and then decompress because I always get so stressed out the night before the pie party, you have no idea.

As soon as they got off the trolley and the door closed, I looked at Janna and gushed, “OMG I LOVE THEM!” and Janna agreed that she also thought they were great and we both started to hardcore hope that they will move here. There were absolutely zero bad or weird vibes. Yes, I was still a little nervous and a lot shy because that’s just me, but I could tell that these are people I can be myself around and I was really excited for Henry to get to meet them the next day.

Meanwhile, not only did Janna have to pay an extra fare for using cash, she also lost a quarter because the fare thingie doesn’t give change. She was pretty nonchalant about this though which was annoying because I wanted her to be more upset. On the walk back to my house, though, some (possibly drunk?) guy walked past us and when he pulled his hand out of his pocket, some change flew out and clattered to the sidewalk. He glanced behind him when this happened, but then kept walking, undaunted that he lost money.

“Janna, you should pick that up. It will make up for the quarter you lost,” I urged. There was at least a dime and a nickel chilling on the sidewalk, plus whatever he dropped further up the sidewalk, but she chose to just pick up the nickel. As soon as it was in her hand, I yelled, “JANNA YOU JUST STOLE FROM THAT MAN!” and he whipped around to look at us while she tried to pass the nickel off on me! I was like, “I DON’T WANT YOUR STOLEN MONEY!” so she ended up leaving it on some sign that was in front of the pool hall we were walking past.

It was great. You should have been there.

*****

Later that night, I got an alert that the Pens game wa starting. They were playing Nashville. I guess all the “random” Nashville talk we kept overhearing that day wasn’t so random after all! Oh ho ho hockey.

Oct 112017
 

I am so excited to write this blog post and it will likely be rife with typos because of said excitement (and also because it’s me typing this, remember). Ok ok ok. So, my friend Maya and her husband Scott have been tossing around the idea of moving and somehow, someway, Pittsburgh made it on their short list of options.

Maya and I go way back, and by way back I mean to somewhere like 2008 when we were both active members of a sellers group on Etsy called Etsy’s Dark Side. It was a lot of fun – people in the group would swap business cards, etc so when an order would go, you could include a cute little pack of swag from other shops in the group, kind of like back in the PENPALLING DAYS when you’d throw in some FBs* with your letter for an added bonus. Maya was so great at organizing these swaps! Our one friend Agony’s Decay used to send us little skull-shaped soaps to include with our orders. I was just thinking about this yesterday and felt inspired to re-order business cards from Vista Print for the first time since 2011. I’m good at running a fake business.

*(Pre-Facebook, “FB” stood for “friendship book” which was a small handmade book of stapled paper, sometimes just index cards, that would get passed on from one penpal to the next with each person writing their name, address, interests, etc with the hope of making new penpals; it was like a super rudimentary Craigslist.)

Anyway, some of us became “outside of Etsy” friends and by that I mean we friended each other on Facebook. Mostly, I didn’t interact very much with any of them but Maya was one of the few that I felt like I clicked with, even after I stopped being as active on Etsy as I was back then. And you may remember that Maya is the maker of my favorite dolls!

(Christofer Drew, Jonny Craig, Vic Fuentes, Birthday Clown keychain!)

Technically, that Christofer Drew doll is Chooch’s, along with a Ju-On doll she made him a few years ago, which is in his room because she’s one of his favorite possessions.

Maya and Scott have been wanting to head on over to Pittsburgh to scope it out. When I told her the date for the pie party, they decided that would be a fine weekend to come out, eat some pie and check out some possible neighborhoods. I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE! I was at work when she told me and I made some (probably disruptive) exclamation at my desk and then ran around telling people. SOME PEOPLE were like, “Great, if you’re giving her the grand tour, they’ll probably scratch Pittsburgh off the list.”

Ugh, shut up guys.

They got in Friday afternoon but I was working late shift that day (#fml), but they hit up 21st St. Coffee, Primanti’s, and the Wood Street Gallery on their own because they’re capable humans. We didn’t actually meet up until Saturday. Janna joined us because I was afraid they’d ask simple questions about the city and I wouldn’t be able to answer, like, “What is that building?” or “Is it safe here at night,” but I figured if they asked me things like, “Hey where did that creepy guy hug you that one time?” or “Where did that machete thing happen?” I’d be fine.

They didn’t ask, but don’t worry: I SHOWED THEM ANYWAY!

I feel like I’ve been training for this day though, all these years, all those lunch break walks. I have gotten so good at Pittsburgh! Well….kind of. I know the good alleys and where to get ice cream. I also know when to avoid walking around down there (4pm – when all those fucking school kids are running the sidewalks acting like they own the goddamn town, ugh GET OFF MY LAWN) and where to get a good non-Starbucks cup of coffee. (Pro tip: anywhere that’s not Starbucks.)

Henry dropped Janna and me off at Scott and Maya’s hotel in the Strip District and I was prepared for awkward greetings because have you met me? Maybe you haven’t. I’m missing very valuable social skills. We’ll touch on that when I get to the Pie Party post, don’t you worry. But thank god Maya and Scott have enough of those skills to make up for my deficiency because I immediately felt at ease.

Plus, it helped that right away Maya gave me this adorable Monster-era G-Dragon that she made me, so that got me talking animatedly about kpop which is my ultimate comfort zone, <3

She even embroidered the “BB” on his back, I love this little baby G-Dragon so much!

The first thing we did was walk under the Convention Center, because there’s this cool water-path thing that’s usually lit up by pretty lights but I think that it must be turned off for the season now. But at least it gave Janna and me a chance to tell them about the annual furry convention, WHICH THEY WILL GET TO EXPERIENCE IF THEY MOVE HERE.

Add that to the “pro” column, guys.

We walked down Liberty and I was sad that my favorite homeless guy wasn’t out for them to see. Actually, I don’t think he’s homeless, and I’m mad at him (again) because he was shaking his Big Gulp cup of change super aggressively the last time I saw him which I thought was just completely unnecessary because he should know by now that I don’t have any change to give him.

Then we walked to the Point so I could show them the fountain. (“When you start seeing 87 pictures of the fountain a day on Instagram, that’s when you know it’s officially summer,” I read to them from my guidebook. I’m good at this.) They saw the fountain. They took pictures of the fountain.

Then Scott asked a question!

“Do you get much flooding here?” he asked innocently, not knowing that his simple inquiry was forcing my brain to do things and I JUST DID NOT KNOW THE ANSWER nor could I think fast enough to make one up. It was hot that day, OK? Really hot and humid for October.

Thankfully, Janna started spewing out some mundane flood facts and to myself, I thought, “This is why I brought her. Thank god for Janna and her knowing of things.”

You might notice that this post is curiously remiss of photos of them. That’s because I was still testing the waters and trying not to be as extra as I tend to be when I’m excited about fresh (faux)meat. 

I decided I would lead my tour group to Market Square. Janna and I told them about how the restraurant NOLA catches fire a lot and they were like, “That’s concerning.” Janna was all, “Yeah but the food there is good” and I couldn’t really back that up because I’m a vegetarian and New Orleans-centric cuisine hates my people.

We walked past some scary propaganda thing being filmed and then I lead them to Millie’s for the best ice cream in Pittsburgh. Actually, I lead them past Millie’s because I wasn’t paying attention, and also the Market Square location of Millie’s didn’t have super impressive choices this time, but my condensed milk nectarine was a delight. Janna got strawberry (*snore*) and Maya and Scott both got milkshakes (blackberry cobbler and Vietnamese coffee, respectively) and I was really excited about this because for some reason, I never think about getting milkshakes at Millie’s. They said it was good though! Janna made me get sprinkles on mine because she wanted it to look like I was trying to emulate her. It was OK.

Fine, it was wonderful. I usually only get sprinkles on soft serve! I am a very particular ice cream orderer!

There were old people in Millie’s talking about Nashville which was coincidental because you know, Maya and Scott live in Nashville. I felt like the old people thought we were totally in their way and hated us because we were like half their ages.

We pulled some tables together in the center of Market Square and talked about our lives, and Pittsburgh, and the fact that Maya is too scared of haunted houses (#fakegoth!). I was acutely aware during this time that conversation was flowing effortlessly and I was getting attached to these people, oh god!

Check back later for part 2, where I successfully got them on the trolley, compared every bird in the aviary to one of my cats (past or present), and caught Janna stealing. It was a jam-packed day, you guys. We did lots.

Nov 142016
 

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What better way to decompress after a long week than by ice creammiserating with friends? (I JUST MADE THAT UP. THANKS, FOUR CUPS OF COFFEE.) I know that Chris and Monica were a little concerned walking the streets of Brookline in this hostile political climate, but I assured them that we would be fine because my White Herero Henry* was going to be with us. No one would fuck with us while we were beneath his canopy of privilege.

And also in his shadow.

*(I’ve been singing this in a vaudevillian manner with jazz hands and Henry is not a fan.)

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We made it all the way to Scoops without incident, unless you count Chris and Monica endlessly heckling me for wearing wedges. Guys, they’re comfortable OK? I wasn’t trying to be fancy — they’re TOMS!

Chooch and I ordered almost immediately. He got one scoop of Boring and one scoop of Ordinary, and I got a scoop each of That’s So 2012 and Basic White Girl, aka Red Velvet and Pumpkin Pie.

Henry joined us at a table a few minutes later, leaving Chris and Monica alone at the counter. But I mean, you can’t get much safer and friendlier than an ice cream shop, right? WRONG.

While Chris and Monica were still weighing their sundae options, the bell over the door jingled and in walked your typical middle-aged Brookline creep. I knew he was a creep by the way our .0003  second eye contact signaled for my Fairy Godmother to flutter down from the rafters and add some dentata to my vagina.

Brookline Sleaze turned his objectifying gaze back where it belonged—on the case of ice cream. Sorry, ice cream.

I went back to pounding my cone into my mouth like it was sugary misogyny meeting its long-overdue demise, until I became acutely aware that Brookline Sleaze and Monica were now exchanging words. At first glance, it seemed casual, like maybe he was suggesting she put a wig of Steelers-colored sprinkles on her sundae, or inviting her to go huff some empty whipped cream cans with him out by the Brookline cannon. YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU IN MY HOOD.

Then I heard Monica say something to him a strained, terse tone. I could now see that this wasn’t a friendly conversation after all, that this man was clearly offending her, and I started to pray that he wasn’t saying something idiotic and ignorant about the election. Please, not here, not now, not while we’re trying to escape all of the hope-pummeling commentary by taking refuge at a fucking ICE CREAM SHOP.

He tried to sneak in a few more words, at which point Monica completely shut him down, telling him that she just didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

“What the fuck?” I mouthed as she sat down at our table with her sundae.

And then she told us exactly what happened, starting with her having a conversation with the Scoops lady about how it had been a long day.

“Yesterday was a long day too,” Brookline Sleaze butt in. Turns out he was referring to a local cop getting killed when responding to a domestic violence call last Thursday.

Monica reminded him that a woman was also killed by the shooter— her husband—and he said he didn’t know that.

“Yeah, and she was six months pregnant,” Monica added. Brookline Sleaze went on to say, “Yeah, but you know, the cop—” which completely verifies that we live in a world where women really do come second, if anywhere at all. And the BEST PART, oh boy, are you ready?

The best part was when Monica told us that he essentially insinuated that the cop’s death was more important because he died while doing his job, and you know, she probably asked for it.

HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT.

She probably nagged him. She probably cheated on him. She probably emasculated him.

She probably did something to have her life and the life of her unborn baby taken away.

Good call, asshole.

Mad props to Monica for keeping her head from spinning during that moronic discourse; in that moment, she was the Michelle Obama of Scoops. 

 To be honest, I probably would have been too stunned to continue the conversation, as well. Or I’d have just burst into tears because I just can’t handle anything anymore. And then White Hetero Henry probably would have told me I’m overreacting or asked if I’m on my period.

Fuck you, White Hetero Henry.

And fuck you harder, Brookline Sleaze.

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Chris and Chooch were like, “Fuck this noise, let’s talk about Disney Emoji Blitz.”

And that’s right, White Hetero Henry — you just sit there and keep your privileged mouth shut before you unwittingly marginalize someone. Why do I feel like the Trump administration is going to turn me into a chubby crusader who lops off penises with hedgeclippers. FAT SHAME ME, MOTHERFUCKERS.

*****

If you’d like to learn more about the pregnant woman who, like the cop, didn’t deserve to die, her name was Dalia Sabae and it sounds like she was really fucking amazing. I didn’t know about her either until Monica told me, because every news source I saw that day only mentioned the slain cop.

There’s not enough ice cream in the world….

Sep 222016
 

Henry: There’s Notre Dame.

Me: ….that big dirt pile?

Henry: Well….no. On the other side of that.

***

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I woke up Monday morning with a dire need to get the hell home. We had driven straight to South Bend, Indiana after saying goodbye to Riot Fest on Sunday, and I was so happy to be staying in a decent hotel after four nights in the worst Motel 6 — hey, we do what we need to do to be able to go to Riot Fest, and it may be just be one step up from sleeping in a car, but at least there was hot (almost pressure-less) water…? I tried not to complain too much because #SOBLESSED to be there, blah blah blah. Trying on a pair of grateful-pants. They don’t fit very well.

You know that I missed Chooch a lot when I didn’t consult my Roadside America app ONCE on the way home to Pittsburgh on Monday.  The struggle was real, man, and I barely even wanted to stop for breakfast. But we missed breakfast at the hotel because prissy Henry was too busy lollygagging, blowing out his hair, pomading his beard — I don’t know what Henry does. I never watch him get ready because it’s boring.

Anyway, since Henry fucked up, I found a placed called JEANNIE’S HOUSE which was somewhere that required us to drive around like 8 “traffic circles.”

Traffic circles are cunts. And second of all, they’re roundabouts.

Jeannie’s ended up being… the bomb dot com? All that and a bag of chip? Why were these things ever acceptable to say? Jeannie’s was great. We got to hang with the locals at the counter! And our waitress loved me because I have an awesome phone case; she even made another waitress come over and said, “Show her your phone case!”

I have better accessories than most high school girls.

MAYBE EVEN MIDDLE SCHOOL GIRLS.

Honestly, that part of me has never changed. I’m literally still the same 10th grader who brought an argyle knapsack to study hall everyday, stuffed with travel games and Floam. People called it the Barney bag, which seemed accurate at the time but now I’m like, Mary Poppins bag would have been better.

But yeah, that’s still me: wearing giant plastic rings and carrying holographic eyeball purses.

Henry just rolled his eyes and proceeded to zone out during this whole exchange.

Anyway, the breakfast fare was standard, but what drew me there was the promise of homemade jams.

I made sure to get a grilled biscuit with my swiss omelet and then proceeded to ask, with urgency, “DO YOU HAVE THE HOMEMADE JAMS?” Our waitress was like “….Yes?” And  then she told me the flavors. I picked peach, which is what Henry tried to also choose until I sternly said, “You have to get a different one so we can share!” and then I coughed, “Idiot” under my breath.

Breakfast was delightful and those jams really did make a big difference.

And then it was back in the car, where Henry was confused by how roads work in Indiana.

Henry: So I can only go left or right? Not straight?

Me: Who cares.

Henry: Well…I care. I don’t want to get a ticket…?

Didn’t Henry LIVE IN INDIANA? I guess he was too busy driving other people’s cars into ditches.

I should have peed before we left Jeannie’s but then we wouldn’t have seen some large, shirtless man yelling at someone sitting in their car in a McDonald’s parking lot after utilizing a surprisingly nice and updated bathroom in a gas station in Smalltown, Indiana where we then got a ton of beverages (including a gross iced coffee), a bag of chip and a (gross) Snickerdoodle for under $5! I think that’s cheap, right?

We also saw not one but THREE cars pulled off to the side of the road where people were picking grapes growing along a median. Wow.

Indiana, you’re flavorful.

That iced coffee was so disgusting though, no surprise. It was this terribly thick concoction and whether it actually had coffee in it is debatable. Also, I was having a hard time getting it to come out of the spout so Henry went and got a gas station employee to assist me before I pushed the whole thing out of a window, and the lady  took the top of which is how I know that the “coffee” lives inside a foiled pouch thing, like ew, and the lady was all, “Sometimes if I squeeze it, it’ll get it started again” and it was just so wrong.

So, so wrong.

Anyway, Henry thinks that she didn’t charge me for it, which was why it seemed so cheap.

“You know like at a bar, when they give you the shot for free if it’s the end of the bottle?” Henry said, and is that what happened the day he drove “Joe’s” car into the ditch!? Too many free “bottom of the bottle” shots?!

Whatever. It didn’t help that shitty iced coffee taste any better.

By the time we reached the first travel plaza in Ohio, I was on the prowl for an iced coffee do-over. Unforch, it was a Starbucks, which I usually tend to avoid, but anything was better than that gas station swill!

I ordered my SMALL NOT TALL coffee and then loudly to Henry I said, “I make a point of ordering either a SM, MED or LG whenever I come here. Fuck a venti.”

“Wow, you’re a real rebel,” Henry mumbled, and then when I asked him if he was getting anything, he scoffed, “No!” Because Henry is hugely against coffee (see also: Henry is a terrorist) and claims that even the cookies at Starbucks tastes like coffee. AND HE HATES THEIR ICED TEA!

Who’s the rebel now?

While at the travel plaza, Henry decided he wanted to get some Hershey’s ice cream and he’s a grown-up so he can have ice cream in the middle of the day if he wants. But there were these two old broads who were lollygagging, changing their orders, musing over which flavor would best complement their daily prunes. Henry quickly grew impatient and, ice cream dreams shattered, moved over to the next kiosk to get some iced tea instead.

But by the time he had finished paying and was handed his empty plastic cup, some man came over for a refill, stepping right in front of Henry and proceeded to pour the slowest cup of iced tea this side of shitty Indiana gas station iced coffee dispenser.

And the whole time, the old broads, now placated with their cups of Hershey chill, hovered behind Henry. They were closer to him than I was and we all know that Chooch and I walk so close to Henry that if he stops abruptly, there’s a people pile-up. Oh shit, Henry hates that about us but I bet if we ever suddenly gave him personal space, he would miss the sound of our adorable shuffling feet.

So now, he’s got this dude tea-blocking him and these broads taunting him with the ice cream he was too impatient to stand in line for, not to mention me standing there laughing at him, and he just looked so defeated and slumped over.

It was amazing.

He was so angry.

Once he finally filled up his cup with Burger King’s iced tea, the old broads walked away. Just like that. We exited the travel plaza the opposite direction as them so Henry could have time to cool off.

“And I thought that guy getting iced tea was the husband of one of those broads!” Henry chirped. “But no, they were just standing there for no reason!” Untrue, Henry – they were standing there to further ruin your experience at the shitty Ohio travel plaza.

In between rehashing every waking moment of Riot Fest, I got Henry to open up a bit about the SERVICE. “Did they ever scream in your face?” I asked him. My only real insight into the SERVICE world is Full Metal Jacket and M.A.S.H.

“I mean, they screamed at us, but not like what you see in  the movies,” he causally answered, temporarily forgetting that he put a ban on answering SERVICE questions.

He said he wasn’t scared when they would scream at him because “eventually they have to stop.” Why did this make me crack up so bad!? How is Henry constantly so even-keeled and level-headed?! Not being screamed at while in the SERVICE fazed him.

I call shenanigans on this, though. I feel like he probably made a lot of tearful calls home to his mommy.

“What was your first day like? Did you cry a lot? Were you worried about not making friends?” I asked, on the edge of my seat but not really because we were in  the car and if I get too close to the edge, my knees are squished against the glove compartment and that’s annoying.

Also, I recently realized that it’s called a glove compartment because its original use was probably to literally put gloves in it!? It was just one of those things where I kept saying the words over and over in my head until it fragmented and I said, real slow, “Glove……compartment. A compartment….for gloves!”

You just gotta let me figure these things out on my own sometimes. Like the time I realized that the logo for the old department store Hornes was actually…A HORN.

Anyway, where were we. Oh! I was asking Henry about his first day at the SERVICE.

“I don’t know…the plane landed at like, 1 in the morning. Then we woke up and got our hair cut.”

Oh for god’s sake, I was squealing with laughter at this point.

“You got your hair cut!” I wheezed.

“Well, yeah,” Henry said, flashing me a concerned look, the kinds that doctors give their patients after they ask if they’ve gone off their meds. “Shaved, actually.”

By this time, I was laughing so hard that nothing at all was coming out but strangulated gasps and Henry was officially done answering questions.

And then we were home, reunited with Chooch and two cats who I’m not certain remembered us. Ob-la-di, motherfuckers.

Sep 132016
 

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It was after 2pm by the time we were done being dummies at Vent Haven, which means we were precariously close to The Witching Bitching Hour, otherwise known as the hunger twilight, where Chooch and I morph from adorably angelic sweethearts into Regan and Damian in Warped Tour shirts.

Henry had approximately 37 minutes to find us a place to eat before the transformation was complete.

Back when Christina and I were friends, I used to visit her pretty frequently in Hamilton, OH, which is a few miles outside of Cincinnati. Since it was kind of on our way home, I suggested that we eat at Hyde’s, a family restaurant she took me to several times. I remembered liking the aesthetic and the pie, and was prepared to throw a fit if Henry said no, but then something miraculous happened:

Henry’s old SERVICE roommate Tim contacted him because he saw on Facebook that we were in the area! This put Henry in a great mood and he said YES to Hyde’s because now we needed to kill time in order for Tim to come out to meet us from wherever he lived in Indiana which is apparently close to Hamilton, who knew? (People who look at maps, I guess.)

Tim called Henry shortly after we arrived at a Hyde’s. Henry jumped out of the booth and went outside to answer it; I’ve never seen Henry run out of a restaurant that fast in my life, not even the time he dined and dashed at HOOTERS in 1992.

(Probably true?)

So then Mr. WE GOTTA GET HOME, NO MORE STOPPING! decided that after lunch, we would be meeting TIM at Jungle Jim’s!

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Holy shit, I was so so excited, I could barely eat. Just kidding, I almost accidentally ate my hand while shoving my grilled cheese into my gnashing maw.

We had a really colorful waitress too who made sure she told us how busy she was every time she swung by our table, and I really liked that Real Talk aspect. I want to believe that we were the only table she confided in. I kept hoping she would talk shit on her other tables to us but she never did.

She probably made fun of me to her other tables though after I was a total tourist and asked WTF “sarasotas” are.

Turns out they’re just homemade potato chips served with BBQ sauce.

“That Yinzer bitch over there asked what them sarasotas is, can you imagine,” she probably said to the table of old bitches who came in for pie.

Chooch of course substituted a basket of sarasotas for his fries and Henry was very perplexed by this.

“Why don’t they just call them homemade chips with BBQ sauce, I don’t undertand,” he said.

SO GIDDY.

One thing to note is that I honestly don’t recogize any of the scenery in Hamilton, for as many times as I have been there. Like, if you set me loose and said, “Find Christina’s old house or die” well I guess I’m dead. I don’t even remember the name of the street, and I used to mail her shit all of the time!

I think this is my mind’s way of protecting me, lol.

On the way there, Henry and Chooch argued over the fact that meth and methane aren’t the same.

So nothing about Jungle Jim’s was familiar to me but who cares because a REAL LIFE PIECE OF HENRY’S SERVICE PAST WAS THERE.

OMG you guys. My mind almost melted.

Chooch took these pictures because he’s my little spy in training.

Unfortunately, Tim and Henry talked about kind of boring things, mostly just catching each other up on their current lives. So Chooch and I were like, “Eh, screw this” and walked ahead of them, looking for the Romania aisle.

I never grocery shop, but Jungle Jim’s is huge and full of weird international goods and animatronics. It’s like Chuck E. Cheese for grocery shoppers. This is where I bought my first and only durian in 2004!

NEVER AGAIN!

The last time I was here was August of 2005, when I was about 65% sure I might be pregnant. There was a fortune teller thing there, so I inserted my quarter and asked, “Hey, am I pregnant? Because I mean, I just turned down ice cream in favor of mustard, so….”

I don’t remember when her prediction was, which shot out of a slot at me, but GUESS WHAT I was definitely pregnant. Technically, this was Chooch’s second time at Jungle Jim’s, I guess.

My favorite thing about Tim is that he chided Henry about not marrying me so TIM, YOU CAN STAY.

****

Here’s a quick Henry Interview!

What did you & Tim used to talk about at night when you were roommates? GIRL STUFF?

Henry: I don’t remember. It was 30 years ago. Literally, 30 years ago.

So, you and Tim lived together in that place in Indiana?

Henry: In the trailer? Yeah.

Did he know you were the town Eunuch?

Henry, sarcastically I think: Hahaha, oh my god, you’re hilarious.

Did he know you were obsessed with being Erik Estrada back then?

Henry: Just answer it yourself. I’m not answering that. You’re making shit up as always.

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Hmm, I don’t know Henry. That picture tells a different story. Speaking of stories, I heard you and Tim talking about the time you drove some guy’s car into a ditch. Talk about that.

Henry: It was 1986 maybe? We had just gotten off work at 7:30 that morning and went to the bar. We (guys I worked with, there was maybe 4 or 5 of us) pretty much drank all day. I had to run home to get something* so I borrowed Joe’s car and when I got close to my house I turned the corner too sharp and went into a small ditch on the side of the road. I blew out the tire and bent the rim and then I parked it at my house, took my car back to the bar without telling him I did anything to his. He didn’t find out until the next day when he came to pick it up and he found out it was damaged so I had to pay for it.

*(Probz porn to trade.)

Good, that’s what happens WHEN YOU DRIVE DRUNK, ASSHOLE. Anyway, that was a boring story. Did you ever take a bullet for Tim?!

Henry, in an annoyed/laughing tone: No. Psh, take a bullet for Tim….

What is your most vivid memory of Tim? Was he in Panama with you?

Henry: He was always working on his car because it seemed to always be broken. I don’t remember, I don’t think so but I can’t be sure. It’s possible.

(WOW. SOME FRIENDSHIP.)

Was Tim with you when you went to see CHEAP TRICK in Texas?!

Henry, appalled at this question for some reason: No! That was when I was in training, when I just got out of basic. Tim didn’t come in until my last year maybe…

(So, right before he went AWOL.)

Henry just said he’s not going to divulge the contents of their Jungle Jim’s convo, so basically this was a huge waste of time.

****

Somewhere outside of Columbus, I was imitating Henry so intensely, that Chooch laughed so hard he pissed his pants, which just made Henry even angrier because now he was going to have to stop somewhere so Chooch could change.

“We’re never going to fucking get home. Thanks a lot, assholes,” Henry barked, which just made Chooch and me bust out our sides from all the laughter.

****

When Henry set the GPS that morning as we left our hotel in Louisville, it told us we’d be getting home sometime around 4.

We got home just shy of midnight.

Good god, that was a fun whirlwind trip to Kentucky.

 

Sep 122016
 

 

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As soon as I saw a museum of dummies listed on Roadside America, my heart sang, “This is the place for us, Erin Rachelle Kelly!” I was ready to get lost in the bowels of a ventriloquist’s wet dream.

[Insert joke about why Henry would want to pay to see dummies when he’s with two of them for free every day.]

After killing an hour in Fort Mitchell, we rolled up to Vent Haven about ten minutes early. The curator was outside and waved to us, so we got out of the car and tentatively approached the property.

“Are you the one who just called today?” the curator asked, after introducing herself as Lisa. I said yes, that was me, and she told me that she almost never has an opening the day-of. “So this is almost like winning the lottery!” she laughed, and I could tell Henry was vehemently disagreeing to himself.

Right when I was panicking about having The Small Talk, another group arrived. This alleviated some of the pressure from us (because Henry damn well wasn’t going to be talking — he was still annoyed that this was pushing back our arrival home!).

We all stood around outside in the yard while Lisa gave us a brief rundown of the history of the museum, which was started out of the home of W.S. Berger when he started collecting dummies in the 50s and eventually his collection grew so large that he ran out of room in his house and had to build auxiliary shed-like buildings in his backyard. Thus, Vent Haven was born, the only museum in the world dedicated to the art of ventriloquism!

“When people see that it’s by appointment only, they think this is some pretentious museum, but I’m the ONLY EMPLOYEE!” she stressed. “I can’t give a tour if I’m at Kroger’s! I need to know when people are coming to my house,” she laughed. Because, you know, she actually lives there too. And it’s funny that she mentioned that because Henry totally groaned when I mentioned that I had to call ahead, because I’m sure he had visions of a stuffy exhibit full of stern-looking elderly people popping Werther’s Originals while an unamused curator monotoned facts around accusatory stares.

(Honestly, I always feel like they think I’m up to something!)

The more Lisa talked, the more I loved her. She was the antithesis of what you’d expect from a roadside tour guide: she was hilarious without being cheesy, imformative without being boring, and her genuine enthusiasm for ventriloquism was contagious. Within minutes, Henry was smiling and laughing. The exact opposite of when we went on the Williamsburg ghost tour!

While waiting for the last group to arrive, she talked a bit about the pyschological reasons why a lot of people are scared of dummies, or dolls of any sort.

“But really, even if they were all going to spring to life and come after you, why would you be afraid of something so small? They’re like the size of toddlers, just kick ’em, you know?” and then to Chooch she hurriedly explained, “I mean, I wouldn’t really kick a toddler…well, you know what I mean.”

I looked at Henry and mouthed, “I.LOVE.HER.”

At exactly 1:00, she interrupted herself and said, “Well, it’s 1. I’m not waiting for them. Let’s go inside and get started.”

ANOTHER REASON TO LOVE HER.

I can’t post the majority of the pictures I took, because of copyright reasons, but there were some photo ops that Lisa gave us permission to share on social media, so that’s what you’ll see here. So ust imagine walking into a small building and being met with hundreds of dead, ogling eyes.

IT WAS EXHILERATING.

I’m not scared of this stuff at all. I mean, I collect clowns and have a mannequin that I use as a Christmas tree—I think I’m relatively immune. But it was admittedly slightly overwhelming at first—the collection is just crazy! Vent Haven is up to 900 now, but not all of them are displayed. Lisa actually had just received a literal carful of presidential dummies (from JFK to Dubya) earlier that week, but hadn’t yet built a display for them.

That’s the other thing about Lisa: not only does she know her shit (one of the people in our group pointed to a random dummy and Lisa dove right in, regaling us with its colorful history), she is the sole creator of the displays and exhibits. “I just really love my job,” she said several times during the tour. It really showed.

And when I pointed out that one of the dolls reminded me of Lady Elaine from Mr. Rogers, Lisa looked at me strangely and said, “You’re not old enough to know Mr. Rogers! I grew up with Mr. Rogers!”

Kentucky, I love you. You make me feel young!

(And standing next to Henry helps, too.)

The last couple finally did arrive and as Lisa watched them get out of the car, she promised she wouldn’t shame them. “I’m an Army brat, can you tell? My dad made sure we were always on time.”

“My dad always made me late to everything when I was a kid, so now I make sure I’m always on time!” I blurted out, wanting nothing more than for Lisa to like me. Henry just rolled his eyes. He hates it when Suck Up Erin makes an appearance.

A little bit later, Henry got to steal my thunder when Lisa asked, “Does anyone recognize these famous ventriloquists?” She pointed to three separate b&w photos on the wall. All men in old b&w photos look the same to me so I gave up after 1.6 seconds.

“Hmmmm….Johnny Carson,” Henry said, pointing to the young guy in the middle.

“Yep!” Lisa said happily. “A lot of people didn’t know he was a ventriloquist.” She told us that puppets and dummies were recurring characters on The Tonight Show during his tenure, but when Leno took over, they ever appeared again because he hated ventriloquism.

As if I needed another reason to hate Leno.

Henry studied the pictures a little harder and, with a hint from Lisa, he was able to also guess Ted Knight. No one got the third one — DON KNOTTS. Too bad, so sad, Henry. You’re not that great.

(Honestly though you should have seen how happy he was to know things.)

Then we got to go outside and play around with three demo dummies that Lisa keeps on hand. We were allowed to take pictures of them, and Lisa even took a picture of Chooch to put on Vent Haven’s Facebook page.

(He acted like a little teenaged shit about it, but that kid was secretly enthralled by this place. I know this because he was enrapt every time I looked at him and he never once asked to use my phone.)

 

The wife-portion of the couple who arrived late told Lisa that she had a dummy when she was a kid, but she’s not sure what her parents ended up doing with it.

“I haven’t seen it in years,” she said. “I have no idea where it went.”

“Maybe it’s here!” I said, clearly as a joke, but she very curtly said, “It’s not. I looked.”

OH OK. This is why I don’t talk to people!

After playing around with the dummies, Lisa took us into another building, where we learned about Harry Lester; the most successful vaudevilian of all time (not just in ventriloquy!) who was basically penniless when he died; and Paul Winchell, who was also the voice of Gargamel on The Smurfs and as soon as Lisa said that, I could picture his name in the opening credits! We talked about Edgar Bergan of course (he was really the only famous ventriloquist I had heard of going into this) and Shari Lewis, and then Henry got to go to the head of the class again when he knew that Wayland Flowers and Madame replaced Paul Lynde as center square on Hollywood Squares.

 

Something he can control!

You guys, Vent Haven brought out a side of Henry that I never knew existed.

There was a section on Jeff Dunham here too. Apparently, he is very generous with the museum and donates a lot of his old props, etc. This is where Chooch’s interest was really piqued.  Lisa played a clip of one of Jeff’s Ahmed routines and Chooch, being right on that apathetic cusp of teenagedom, acted like he wasn’t impressed, but I could see his mind reeling.

There was one last building to visit, with even more dummies. It doubled as the gift shop and Henry’s good mood started to shift when he heard me tell Lisa that I wanted a magnet and her book and sure Chooch, you can get that Jeff Dunham handpuppet set. Henry hates souvenirs.

Lisa was so flattered that I wanted to buy her book. But she was so entertaining and knowledgeable! There were numerous dummies throughout Vent Haven that had signs which said “I’m in the book!” so of course I had to buy it. I had to stop myself from gushing my way to a restraining order, but I just really wanted Lisa to know that I was obsessed with her in all of the good ways.


“You’re seriously the best tour guide we ever had,” I said all breathily as she wrote up an invoice for the admission fees and our souvenirs. I could sense Henry’s cringe all the way on the opposite side of the room. But Lisa took it well!

Chooch wants everyone to know that the 90 minutes we spent there got him into Jeff Dunham (he watched YouTube videos of his performances on Henry’s phone almost the whole car ride back to Pittsburgh) and he is trying to learn how to throw his voice now. I can’t tell you how many times this past week we’ve talked about the things we learned on that small, unassuming residential lane in Fort Mitchell, KY.

Oh, and he also wants everyone to know that Henry had a crush on ANGELICA, the main person from the second group who joined us, and that he kept looking at her ass.

If you ever find yourself in the Louisville/Cincinatti area, I highly encourage you to call up Vent Haven and take a tour. Go not just for the dummies, but for Lisa’s biting humor and delightful stories. She’ll make a dummy-lover out of you!

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“That was fucking awesome, admit it, Henry,” I squealed as we drove away.

With just a hint of a smile, he quietly said, “Yeah. It was pretty awesome.” Ladies and gentlemen, I think Henry had a little bit of fun amongst dummies.

I mean, 90 minutes where all three of us were equally entertained and enjoying ourselves? Lisa was right: it really was like winning the lottery!

Sep 102016
 

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If you ask Henry, our drive home from Louisville last Sunday was: long, annoying, awful, terrible, headache-inducing, frustrating, expensive.

If you ask me, it was: SO MUCH FUN OMG WE DID ALL THE THINGS!

Before saying goodbye to Louisville, we stopped for breakfast at For Goodness Crepes. Chooch had been craving crepes recently, god only knows why, so we figured we would be nice parents and find a creperie since we usually force him to eat at places that make him miserable.

LOL j/k I wanted crepes too and thought this place had a cute name and that’s all that matters.

As soon as we walked in, I knew I was going to love it because it wasn’t stuffed with people. Crowded breakfast spots make me so anxious – the AM is way too early for me to voluntarily deal with crowds. No breakfast is worth that, sorry not even Pamela’s and I LOVE PAMELA’S.

(Seriously though, come visit me in Pittsburgh and we will go to Pamela’s during an off-hour and you can have the greatest pancakes of your life. AND LYONAISSE POTATOES.)

But anyway, this is about Louisville, not Pittsburgh. I’m not sure what the “best place” for breakfast is considered because I never research those things beforehand, but I was extremely pleased with our experience at this crepe place. I ordered from the savory menu, something called I Dream of Veggies; it was Asian-inspired and had this glorious ginger mayo-type sauce that I would honestly do a shot of right now if placed in front of me, no fucks given. OMG and edamame. I love edamame. This crepe was the limit.

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Chooch got the cinnamon roll crepe and of course I stole several bites — it was like a carnival on my tongue. An actual cinnamon roll was deconstructed inside there, I think, and the cream cheese sauce was so sweet and tangy….take me back. Take me back right now.

Who cares what Henry got. Meat crepe.

Oh also! After we ordered at the counter, I got to pick my own coffee cup! I chose one shaped like a vintage Santa Claus and was stupdily excited about it.

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We played Hangman while we waited for our crepes and it was Big Fun – I love when restaurants provide games. I literally only looked at my phone when I was using it to take pictures, and that’s how it should be when you’re eating with your family!

(I’m sorry, I know a lot of people lump in “taking pictures” as well, but I honetsly take pictures constantly. I love taking pictures, and I love having picture mementos of each day. It’s important to me, as a chronic memory hoarder. I love collecting snaps!)

During Hangman, one of my words was “hyperbole.”

“What even is that?” Chooch asked after no one guessed it.

“Um,” I started, trying to think of the best way to explaing it. “…my blog.”

“Your mom’s whole life,” Henry muttered.

Chooch’s message to Louisville.

At first, I thought Chooch made this one up too and I was like, “OMG MY SON IS A PRODIGY! WHAT A GODDAMN GENIUS! THE NEXT GREAT AMERICAN POET!” But then he was like, “No it was already there, I was just showing it to you.”

Great. Back to having a basic 5th grader.

It was sad leaving Louisville without really getting a chance to see it (although we did accidentally go over the same bridge to Indiana like 8x during our stage, so that’s one thing we became pretty acquainted with) so now I want to go back again for a full weekend, when there isn’t a show to go to, because on our way out I saw A LOT of antique stores. In spite of Henry’s valiant efforts to distract me.

Originally, we were going to go to some cavern (Lost Caves, I think? Too lazy to look it up, thorough and informative blogger that I am) but Henry was like, ‘THIS IS IN THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE DIRECTION OF WHERE WE NEED TO GO. WHY CAN’T YOU LEARN TO READ A MAP, I DON’T UNDERSTAND.” God, sorry to be such a navigational piece of shit, Henry. Go fuck a compass.

I had a back-up plan though, but I was sure he wasn’t going to go for it.

My back-up plan was a VENTRILOQUIST MUSEUM in Fort Mitchell, KY, right outside of Cincinnati.

I kind of just mumbled it.

Henry got real tense behind the wheel and sighed.

“Never mind. You won’t want to go there,” I said in my soft, sad voice, just one whimper shy of reaching full-blown Sally Struthers level.

“It’s probably not even open on Sundays,” Henry said in a tone that sounded to me like he was trying to will it not to be open.

I checked Roadside America.

“It says it’s open on Sundays from May through September!” I squealed. And then, “Oh. ‘By appointment only.'”

So Henry was all, “Yeah sure whatever, go on and call.” Probably because he thought there was no way in hell that someone was going to answer.

But someone did! A woman! I asked her how far in advance appointments needed to be made and she said usually 2 days, but then she paused and said, “Although….how many do you have in your party? I might be able to squeeze you in with my 1:00pm group.”

I told her three and she said that would be no problem! And she took my name! And said she would see me at 1!!

I was so stoked! But then I hung up and noticed that Henry was staring at me in the way that he does when he’s ready to burst into Flames of Madness and wants to take me down into the ashes with him. 

“So….we have an appointment for today! But….it’s not until 1…..”

It was only a little after 11:00am and we were mere minutes away from Fort Mitchell. Henry had plans on us being home that day by 4 and now this was definitely not going to happen if we were still going to be in Kentucky until at least 2pm at this point. 

So I started doing that thing I do where I get real pouty and repeatedly wail, “JUST FORGET IT!” and make him feel like he’s the worst person in the world when he hasn’t even said no yet.

“DO YOU WANT TO GO THERE OR NOT?!” he yelled, yanking the steering wheel and driving the car onto the exit for Fort Mitchell without even waiting for me to answer because after 15 years, he knows how these games end: with probably some crocodile tears and definitely me getting my way.

So now we had an hour + to kill in some small town in Kentucky.

Obviously, we went to a cemetery, where at first I was still being a baby and said I was just “GOING TO SIT IN THE CAR AND DIE” while they were like, “K have fun” and left me there with the windows up.

And then when I finally got out of the car, I set the car alarm off because our car is dumb so then Henry and Chooch knew that I wasn’t wallowing anymore, ugh.

OUR LITTLE ANGEL.

Oh, I just remembered why I was pouting in the car! I wanted to take a picture of Chooch holding the Artifex Pereo screenprint that he had signed at the show, but his posing and posture wasn’t up to my standards so I shrieked, “JUST FORGET IT!” and if I die first, is that what Henry will use for my epitaph?

DEEP THOUGHTS.

Henry found one of those things he used to smoke when he was a kid and I tried to act like I didn’t care because I was still in Miserable Bitch mode, but then I broke down and took a picture.

Sometimes you just gotta let my mood swings play out, guys. I’ll come back around eventually.

(And then I wonder why barely anyone is close to me, lol.)

We still had time to kill, plus Chooch and I had to pee, so we went to Krogers across the street and walked around like we have never been to a grocery store before and then I flipped out because some girl was handing out samples of cheese TOOTHPICKED ONTO MEAT so of course I gave her a huffy “No!” when she offered one to me. 

“Maybe it’s because it’s the meat they’re trying to get you to buy,” Henry suggested around a mouthful of THE ENEMY’S CHEESE SAMPLE, always the Devil’s advocate.

“NO, IT WAS THE CHEESE. SHE CLEARLY SAID DO YOU WANT TO TRY BLAHBLAH CHEESE?!” I barked, so mad that my rage had erased the memory of what kind of cheese was causing me to launch missiles of protest in the first place. 

“Well, you could ask for a sample of just the cheese,” Henry said. Like, oh OK, let me do this broad’s job for her.

“She should have samples of JUST CHEESE already available, because guess what, NOT EVERYONE LIKES MEAT, god forbid!” I cried, deep in the throes of my scheduled Sunday Shit Fit. There was no turning back now. I hated Kroger’s.

I then proceeded to spend the next twenty minutes bitching about it in a passive aggressive manner, as I’m prone to do, hoping that the right Kroger employee would hear me and publicly flog the cheese-sample meater-upper.

Instead, I just loudly said, “I GUESS I WILL JUST HAVE TO WRITE A LETTER!”

“Literally no one is going to care,” Henry sighed. “And also, that girl wasn’t even a Kroger employee, probably.”

This could be true. Janna had a short-lived job handing out samples of peppers or condoms or pepper condoms at Giant Eagle, and it was some temp agency that got her the gig.

Then Kroger’s can just forward my complaint on to her true employer!

Dumb bitch!

OK, that’s enough for this installment. Tune in later to read all about the most amazing museum, Vent Haven. That place still feels like a dream to me.

Dreamy sighs and eyelash bats,

Erin Rachelle, Dummy Lover.

 

Sep 082016
 

Maybe some people think roadside attractions (a/k/a TOURIST TRAPS) are super tacky, but I just think that road trips would be remiss without stopping to see at least one giant rubberband ball. Henry is one of those people who finds limited, if any, joy in anything off the beaten path, so our travel days are usually full of lots of yelling, pouting, tires squealing, and hands punching the steering wheel.

I almost always get my way, though! And Henry will usually admit later that it “wasn’t bad.” Except for the cuckoo clock cluster. He was 100% not a fan of that side trip.

Loveland Castle has been on my radar for some time now and our travel day on Saturday was actually planned around a stop at its hallowed grounds.  This joint is nearly in the middle of nowhere, right outside of Cincinnati, down a concerning road that seems like it’s going to drop you straight into a river, until it suddenly turns and THERE IS THE CASTLE.

It’s much smaller than I anticipated, though I’m not sure what I was actually expecting — Neuschwanstein Castle? I mean, it’s just Ohio, after all. It was at least bigger than White Castle, so there’s that.

[Though, speaking of Germany — I kept seeing this shit called goetta on menus while we were in the area and it turns out it’s some kind of gross German breakfast meat product that’s a Cincinnati staple and  I’m like, how did I have a best friend from that area for like 6 years and she never mentioned goetta (not that I’d be interested in it because meat, but still) or took me to Loveland Castle?! Probably because she was too busy keeping me hidden in her bedroom like a DEAD BUTTERFLY NAILED TO A BOARD. You know what I mean. If not, just skip ahead.]


My initial thought was: this place is a clusterfuck. There was no order whatsoever! You walk in to some glorified gift shop and bump into people and then when the young guy at the counter fails to acknowledge you, you stand there with money in your hand until he finally asks, “How many adults and kids?” No ticket was administered, no hands were stamped — we could have probably just walked in and not even paid.

He didn’t even tell us where to start!! People were literally stumbling about like drunk lemmings.

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The tour is self-guided. I hate self-guided tours. I need someone beating information into me. I can’t be trusted to stop and read plaques on walls, although at one point, we were passing back through the gift shop when some man in Loveland t-shirt stood up and gave those of us in the room a brief, yet wildly entertaining, history of the Castle. His name was Sir Dave and he had a great local flavor about him, if you know what I mean (do you know what I mean) and I wished so badly that he would just escort us through the whole damn Castle – it wasn’t that big!

He even managed to charm Henry, but I might just be mixing it up with the fact that he mentioned the SERVICE, at which point Henry adopted an “I’m listening” visage.

Sir Dave told us about the Castle’s builder, Sir Harry Delos Andrews, and how he became enamored with architecture when he was in Europe DURING THE WAR (he was a MEDIC). And so in the 1950-something, he started to build his own damn castle on the banks of the Little Miami River, using milk cartons filled with clay or something that I can’t be expected to remember, to make bricks. There are like over a million of them that make up the Castle. I think that’s what I heard somewhere.

Or dreamt.

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Sir Harry was like a Boy Scout leader too or something and they helped him build the Castle. He called them the Knights of the Golden Trail.

I literally can’t imagine Chooch being a Boy Scout.

I almost fell down a stone staircase at one point and Chooch thought this was the funniest thing ever and then wanted me to reenact it later and I was like, “Who taught you to be such an assho—-oh. Never mind.”

YOU SHOULD KNOW WHAT KOGT STANDS FOR SINCE I WRITE SUCH INFORMATIVE TRAVEL GUIDES.

A bedroom cell.

There is something on this wall that I HATE. Bonus points if you can find it.

You can’t expect me to read all of these artifacts. I paid $5 and I wanted someone to tell me The Facts!


Queens of Roadside Attractions.

 

Chooch’s review: I thought Loveland Castle was cool and scary (not really) but it was scary that 2 drunk men came in and attacked Sir Harry and stole some weapons. Also I saw a white box with a Bee’s Nest inside so, YAY!!!

 

I want that lantern.

Sir Harry had an IQ of 189!

Here’s a picture of Henry learning how to build me a castle.

Sir Dave gave us a riddle, something about Sir Harry being pronounced dead in 1918 (I think?) and then died in 1981, and said we would have to watch the short documentary playing upstairs in one of the towers. So we watched it and it wasn’t really a riddle, but like….something that seriously happened? They thought he had died of spinal meningitis when he was IN THE SERVICE and declared him dead but then realized three days later that he wasn’t dead and had to give a shot of adrenaline to the heart, at which point he awoke and it turned out he had some kind of rare antibody in him or something, I quit paying attention once we got the answer.

These two assholes I travel with always act like every roadside attraction we stop at is the worst thing since I introduced Jonny Craig into their lives, but they later admitted that Loveland Castle was “pretty cool.”

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Patriotic party hat!

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Overall, I was glad that we made the detour. It only took about an hour to see it all (and that’s because we looped around it twice and then watched that 20 minute documentary too) and the history was juicy enough to make it worthwhile.  Anyway, if you’re into Boy Scouts; medieval things; and the possibility of tumbling down narrow, uneven, spiral stone staircases, then you should visit Loveland Castle.

(If you collect magnets like I do, prepare to be disappointed though. Their souvenir selection is sparse.)

(I think Henry secretly joined the KOGT when I wasn’t looking.)

(Also, I think I have a crush on Sir Dave?!)

****

Afterward, we ate lunch at Sugar & Spice, another place my ex-BFF never took me!

“Maybe it wasn’t around when you were friends,” Henry said, ALWAYS DEFENDING HER.

“It was established in 1942!” I cried, jabbing my finger at my Sugar & Spice coffee cup that said “EST. 1942.”

Ugh.

Sep 032016
 

7:47am: We just pulled out of the driveway. “I need coffee” I immediately said. “Yeah, I’m well aware of what everyone needs,” Henry snapped. Whoa. CRAPPY PANTS IS HERE, EVERYONE.

7:49am: Chooch is mad because Henry got a new phone (he’s been using an old person flip phone for the last few mths because his real one broke) and he wants to hold it so badly but Henry is like DONT START WITH THIS PHONE SHIT!! Kids and phones, amirite.

8:16am: I can’t believe I’m about to admit this but I succumbed to the basic bitch pressure and got a….pumpkin macchiato. I know! I’m the worst! I’m so predictable! But at least it wasn’t from Starbucks. In other news, I’m not being a bitch anymore because I got a pumpkin macchiato.

8:42am: I had planned on swinging by the Cincinnati area because I have always wanted to go to the Loveland Castle (and by always I mean for the 4 years I’ve known of its existence). Henry just had me look up the directions on Google maps so I clicked on the map thing in my Roadside America app and started crying because it said it was nearly 7 hours away and HOW WILL WE HAVE TIME so Henry got all huffy and said, “send me the directions!” So I did and he was like, “because these directions have us starting in MARYLAND, that’s why it says it’s so far away!”

While I was giggling, Henry said in a very weary voice, “How do you survive?”

8:59am: Chooch just came back with cheese curls from Sheetz and you would have thought I was asking him for a kidney, I hate him.

Oh for fucks sake, Henry couldn’t find the lemon packet things for his signature unsweetened iced tea, and some Sheetz lady JUST BROUGHT THEM OUT TO THE CAR FOR HIM BEFORE WE LEFT and Henry is SO FUCKING EXCITED ABOUT THIS and wants to write to Sheetz now except he doesn’t know the broad’s name.


He can just send them this picture of her then, I guess.

9:18am: I wonder how many hours of mocking Henry in a hick farmer accent before I finally pierce the barrier he mentally puts up between us. YOU CAN’T BLOCK ME OUT FOREVER, SWEET PEA.

9:51am: I hate when I start to like something Top 40ish and Chooch pops up from the backseat to tell me that they used to be a YouTuber, ugh.

10:42am: Stopped at rest area in some Ohio place and a man in a suit asked Chooch if his name was LESTER and then was crippled with disbelief when Chooch said no because HE LOOKS JUST LIKE SOME BOY HE KNOWS and as we left him in our dust, I could still hear him back there wow’ing in shock.


Obligatory rest stop bathroom selfie. If I look haggard that’s because I stayed up all night watching Danity Kane videos/Making the Band recaps on YouTube.

Meanwhile, I almost forgot that Chooch’s name was Lester back when we kidnapped him 10 years ago.

11:57am: Reminsicing about the time I listened to this Perfidious Words song on repeat for approx. 5 hours when I worked the late shift at my last job, and then accidentally became suicidal because of it. Henry is not enjoying this stroll down memory lane.

12:12pm: Henry is in another rest area, doing whatever he does in there, so Lester and I are talking behind his back. “He’s in such a bad mood today.” “I know.”

Just wait until we get to the castle! That’ll be sure to turn his frown upside down and back around into a greater frown.

1:38pm: well we just finished touring Loveland Castle and Henry is in an even worse mood, as predicted! The only time he smiled was when the guide mentioned THE SERVICE.


ASSHOLE ALERT.

Whatever. Lester had a good time in the castle.

1:43pm: Some broad in a car next to us at a red light sneezed so I said bless you and Lester is like SO EMBARRASSED.

2:13pm: we’re at Sugar & Spice for lunch and this place is a WONDERLAND.

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Our waitress was this old lady who seemed concerned that no one had brought me my coffee 30 seconds after I ordered it.

“You had a coffee right?” she asked. “And no one brought it yet???”

I shook my head no, slowly, because I didn’t understand how anyone would know I ordered it when she was still standing there taking our order?

“Wait—did you just tell me that now?” She asked. “Oh, ha! I saw it there and forgot that I had just written it down.”

O.o

The restrooms were DOWNSTAIRS. I love when the restrooms are downstairs! This place was EVERYTHING!


I read about it on Roadside America and literally the only reason we went is because they give out FREE RUBBER DUCKIES. Chooch and I were so nervous that we weren’t going to get one and neither of us wanted to ask and Henry was like THIS IS ALL YOU DONT LOOK AT ME so finally I cleared my throat and asked the lady at the register if the duck thing was still a go, and she silently reached for a bucket on a shelf and told us to go on and take a rubber duck and Chooch nearly clotheslined himself against the counter in his overzealous rummaging.

4:58pm: Nothing noteworthy has happened in hours but we just made it to the hotel – some generic Radisson. Three hours until Artifex Pereo!!

6:51pm: just saw Jerry’s Junk and it was mildly cool but also pretty anticlimactic.


However, I bet that man has a TON OF SHIT that I would buy if he was selling. Meanwhile, Chooch casually asked me to put on Danity Kane, lol.

And Henry is having a blast telling Louisville drivers that they’re doing it wrong. “YOU CANT TURN LEFT ON RED!”

7:24pm: Benjamin the Lyft driver is taking us to the venue now and listening to him and Henry attempt to make small talk with each other is simultaneously killing me and giving me life. Also I couldn’t get my seatbelt to fasten so I’m just sitting here with my arm thru it like a sling.

8:52pm: Huge difference between me and Chooch: when I need to pee in a public place, I freak out and spend 25 minutes trying to build up the courage to look for the bathroom and then I hoarsely whisper to Henry WHERE DO YOU THINK THE BATHROOM IS OMG HELP. Chooch gets right up and sets out to find it himself.

10:32pm: This night is so excelsior. Every band has been wonderful, the venue is great, Henry is actually in a good mood and said that he liked the last band that played (Funeral Portrait) and now Artifex Pereo is about to go on and I’m so sweaty and Chooch is half asleep in a chair and all the Artifex guys keep asking him if he’s going to make it and it’s just good fucking vibes all over, can I stay in Louisville forever.


12:02am: Waiting for our Lyft driver, Nicholas, to pick our exhausted, sweaty asses up. I hope I lost weight. I SWEAT SO MUCH.

“There’s so much wrong with my body,” Chooch just randomly said.

12:23am: Nicholas returned us safely to our hotel (he was an A+ Lyft driver and gave us non-stressful conversation) and then we had cheerful banter with the ladies at the front desk because we’re all delirious from the hotbox that is New Vintage, and now I’m ready to get my Savasana on in this stiff-as-fuck bed.

PEACE OUT, GIRL SCOUT.

Mar 292016
 

I felt #soblessed that we had time for a Dutch Haven visit before the show on Saturday. There is a certain magic to this place, like a butterscotch candy in grandma’s purse.

I have a cold and I’m half-asleep writing this on the couch. Don’t question me.

We were pretty full from our late lunch at Bridgeport Family Restaurant, where all the regulars loafed at the  counter, engrossed in whatever kids talent show that’s hosted by Steve Harvey.

I really can’t stand Steve Harvey and none of those kids had any talent worth writing home about.

Anyway, I was so big high off life (and all that manure in the air) that I was scream-laughing the whole way to Dutch Haven and Henry was not pleased. I just really love road trips, guys. 

Inside Dutch Haven, Chooch acted as though he’s never had shoo-fly pie before and devoured two samples of it before ordering a whole slice all while making foodgasm sound effects. You’d think we kept him locked in the car every other time we swung by the Haven.  

Oh my god, and the whipped cream to shoo-fly ratio is DIVINE, like a holy helmet to protect the molasses-y relic below.

I’m thankful that my beloved shoo-fly is 4 hours away because I don’t ever want the novelty to wear off.

Of course I ate my slice too fast and got really sick. Totally worth it though.

And then Henry gave us $5 so we could buy a horseshoe from some random unattended horseshoe stand outside of Dutch Haven and I got really worried that whatever Amish kid was shilling these wouldn’t know if we paid even though I definitely shoved a $5 bill into the metal cash box and I hope no one actually steals a horse shoe! The stand was right next to the parking lot for Dienner’s, which is a SMORGASBORD RESTAURANT for disgusting pot-bellied TOURISTS UGH. Everyone knows those are the types of people who piss on the honor system!

But seriously, why would you want to buy six of these?

Someone should bake me a shoo-fly pie for my birthday which is JULY 30TH. You have time.

Mar 272016
 

9:24 We’re headed home from Lancaster. I figured I would Liveblog to keep myself busy, but I’m just going to wait to post it until it’s done because my WordPress app hates me. 

Henry was upset because some guy kept staring at him when he and Chooch went to grab some hotel “breakfast.” I figured he was exaggerating because you know how flagrant Henry’s imagination is. But then when we were leaving the hotel after checking out, Henry said “Look there’s that guy who was staring at me” and wouldn’t you know it, that guy’s eyes were GLUED to Henry even as we sat in the car. It was nuts. Then I realized Henry was wearing his Arizona Iced Tea hat so I said, “Maybe he’s staring at your hat and it’s making him thirsty.” Sounds like I cracked that motherfucking case, bitches. 

 
Chooch and I took this picture before we left the room, and Henry titled it “Two Idiots In a Mirror.” OR YOU KNOW, EMAROSE TWINS. But whatever. Use whichever one you want. I don’t care. 

9:48am: Henry’s reminiscing about his paperboy days and I promise you he has told me this story before, verbatim. Delivering newspapers in the 70s must have made a pretty big impact on him. From Newspapers to FAYGO: The Life Of Henry J. Robbins. 

10:35am: If you ever feel like people don’t give a fuck about Easter anymore, just drive through Gettysburg on Easter Sunday. The Easter hats are out in full effect. Also, if you ever want to be embarrassed at Henry’s and my utter lack of historical knowledge, sit in the car with us as we drive through Gettysburg while Chooch bombards us with war questions. At least I knew it wasn’t WORLD WAR 2 though, CHOOCH. 

11:16: At a Sheetz somewhere on Rt. 30. Some older broad was in a bathroom stall talking on the phone and it was really uncomfortable because I just wanted to pee, you know? Then she was out of the stall and blocking the sink when I came out, still on the phone too! So she moved out of the way and after she ended the call, she said to me, “When your daughter starts talking, you don’t stop her” and then we shared a moment of polite laughter so then I felt kind of bad for psychically wishing she eats a bad egg today. Then the Sheetz barista (lol) gave me cold coffee instead of hot so Henry had to go back in and deal with it on behalf since it’s Easter and he didn’t want me to make some young teenage boy cry. Henry the Patron Saint of Sheetz Baristas. 

On the real, I wouldn’t want to make coffee for fucking assholes like me all day long so sorry for psychically wishing you eat too many jellybeans today, barista boy. 

11:26: NOW MY COFFEE IS TOO HOT. 

12:30: We were going to walk to the abandoned turnpike tunnels near Beeezewood because every time we drive past we never have time. But then we realized that it’s apparently an all-day jaunt by foot so we decided we would just do better research (this is a new thing for us—due diligence as opposed to our usual spontaneity/unpreparedness). However now Chooch is in the backseat beating his head off the window because WE NEVER DO ANYTHING FUN. THE ONLY FUN THING WE DID ALL WEEKEND WAS THE CONCERT AND NOTHING ELSE and we were like “hello that was the whole point of the weekend so shut up Mr. S. Poiled Rotten. Now Henry is yelling at him and I’m like “Hahaha better you than me, little boy!”

  
1:04: Just drove through Bedford and Henry pointed out a restaurant that was open but then continued to drive and now we’re out of Bedford so I guess we’re not eating in Bedford.

Meanwhile, I have on a Bled Fest play list and I keep asking Henry if he’s stoked to see each band that comes on and then I hurry up and repeat his response in a mocking manner before he even has a chance to finish because I know exactly what he’s going to say and I can say it better than him. THAT IS HOW GOOD I AM AT IMITATING HIM. 

1:13: UGH we just drove through the area that has all of those sickening windmill things and I was dry heaving. 

“There’s nothing wrong with them!” Henry yelled. 

“WHAT IF YOU FELL OUT OF THE SKY AND LANDED ON ONE?! THESE ARE HAZARDS!” I cried. 

“Why would you be falling out of the sky?” Henry asked in that smug tone. 

Because maybe I’m skydiving that day? I DONT KNOW. Regardless, they’re disgusting. 

“How are they disgusting?” Chooch asked incredulously. 

“Chooch, anything mommy doesn’t like or understand is disgusting,” Henry calmly explained. “Like my breathing.”

GOT THAT RIGHT, POPS.

LOL. “Pops.”

  

2:19: Just left our beloved Summit Diner in Somerset after Chooch barfed in the bathroom then came back to the table crying and gagging so we made him go outside while we paid because BOY DONT BE PUKING AT THE TABLE. Prior to that, Henry and I had a coleslaw standoff because I always take his picture while he’s eating coleslaw so then I had to let him take a picture of me eating his coleslaw to even the playing field. THAT’S FINE. YOU WIN SOME YOU LOSE SOME. 

 
This one is from yesterday at Bridgeport Family Restaurant. I was laughing so hard about this that I started sobbing in the car. It’s that Amish air that does it to me. I get psychotically giddy. 

  
   

WHATEVER at least my double chin miraculously hid itself for this photo. 
 Coleslaw King. 

Coleslaw is probably one of the few things that Henry and I share a mutual love for. Although I’m way more picky about my coleslaw than he is. For instance, I had the worst coleslaw that’s ever touched my tongue last week at Diamond Market but I bet Henry would have liked it. It was so vinegary!!

  
All the waitresses had on bunny ears in case anyone dared forget that today is Easter. 

Now I’m sitting in the car while Henry and Chooch are in Walmart because we didn’t get Chooch an Easter basket since I was too preoccupied with making one for Emarosa (dorky fan girl, party of one for that corner table by the bathroom) so Henry’s letting him pick out some small item of cheap joy I guess. 

Speaking of bathrooms, I had to pee so bad when we got to the diner but the bathroom was occupied so I went back to our table and proceeded to stress out over this and then Henry had to use the men’s room so I told him to check the women’s room while he was back there and he was all YEAH THATS NOT WEIRD. Anyway, I didn’t want to go back and try again because there was a table of people near it and I didn’t want to walk past them again because I’m neurotic and assumed that they were paying attention to my bladder strife. Finally, as Henry was paying the bill, I tried again and as it turns out, there was never anyone in there that whole time because, FUNNY STORY, I was turning the knob the wrong way. 

2:42: They’re back from Walmart. Chooch didn’t see anything he wanted so he got Kleenex and then actually won something out of the claw machine: a Chinese takeout container with stickers inside?!

3:26: Randomly started missing my old pink Converse. “Remember when I lost one but then you found it? It was that one weekend Christina was visiting and I was crying.”

“Ha, which weekend? You were always crying when Christina was visiting.” True story. 

In other news, Chooch is back to calling Henry Pee-Paw. I thought that one was permanently put to rest but apparently on Easter, all kinds of things are resurrected. 

4:40: Just stopped at a Dollar General down the street from our house because we need cat food (for our actual cats, not Easter dinner) and I can’t wait to get inside my house and close my eyes. I got hardly any sleep last night because ADRENALINE and I won’t sleep in the car because I’m afraid that if I fall asleep, Henry will fall asleep. And you know what that means: no more live blogs. Unless there’s a way to Liveblog from the afterlife. And I can’t think of any other way other possessing someone alive, and that just seems like a lot of effort to tell the Internet about which latest body part has sufficiently decomposed. 

I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m exhausted and we have been listening to The Summer Set for the last hour and that is some fucking sugary pop brainrot. 

ON THAT NOTE I’M HOME NOW BEST WEEKEND EVER!!!

Feb 092016
 

 

Troy Hill is a neighborhood somewhere on a hill some direction outside of Pittsburgh. You know, over there.  The last time I was there was when Andrea was visiting in 2011 and we went to see the largest collection of relics this side of the Vatican. Right up there on Troy Hill! It was also the first time Andrea got to hear real life Pittsburgh accents, so that is usually when I think of when, if ever, Troy Hill comes to mind.

Those relics are kind of a hidden gem here in the city. I never knew they existed until I took some Christianity class at Pitt back in 2006 (once upon a time, I was going to major in English Writing and minor in Religious Studies—look at me now!) and the professor told us about it and while most of the class looked bored as fuck, I was furiously scribbling the information down in my notebook because BONES.

A few years ago, Troy Hill added another gem into their hidden treasure chest when some art-savvy dude bought an abandoned house and then commission German artist Thorsten Brinkmann to set up shop and turn this average, unassuming Pittsburgh brick house into a gesamtkunstwerk called La Hütte Royal. Kara and I have wanted to check this place out for some time now, but like usual, we get distracted by life and it gets moved to the back-burner. However, last month when I asked her if she wanted to go to the Mattress Factory with Corey and me, she rekindled the idea of La Hütte and Corey was definitely on board for this change of scenery.

Touring the house is free, but an appointment must be made. I was mildly stressed about this because 1. I hate making appointments and 2. I hate having responsibilities. THANK GOD I was able to fulfill these requirements through email, and that is how we ended up with a 2pm engagement on Troy Hill last Saturday.

This is also how I learned, 9 months after purchasing my car, that I absolutely cannot parallel park by relying on the backup camera. Plus, Kara and Corey were heckling me! Finally, I went old school and threw my arm over the back of my seat and successfully parked without the aid of a visual device.

“THIS IS LIKE A TEXTBOOK PARK JOB, TOO!” Corey exclaimed. “Like if we had a ruler, it would be the perfect distance from the curb.”  That made me feel better for the previous botched attempts, so thank you COR-COR!

(That’s what Chooch calls him and it’s incredibly obnoxious.)

Here’s the telephone pole that I did NOT wreck into, no thanks to the backup camera.

I texted the docen, Ryan, to let him know that we were running on time and then the three of us tentatively climbed the steps of a very unassuming brick house on a regular old Pittsburgh street. Kara made herself at home by plopping down on the porch swing while I tried to pee in anticipation of who was going to open the front door. I kept envisioning some stuffy older man like Dick from the Bayernhof, but instead we got a young college student in skinny jeans and a beanie and in my head I was thinking, “LET’S BLOW THIS LA HÜTTE STAND AND GO TO A BEACH SLANG SHOW TOGETHER!”

I mean, I was like, “Oh hello, Ryan. I’m Erin.”

AND I’M SINGLE AND CERTAINLY NOT EVEN CLOSE TO 36 YEARS OLD.

J/K.

We had to wait for two other people, who turned out to be SOPHIE the COSTUME DESIGNER and her plaid-shirted companion. They both seemed to be drowning in each others’ ennui. SOPHIE of course had previously visited La Hütte, but her manpanion had no idea where she had brought him. Another fun date with SOPHIE, he probably mumble-cored to his other lumbersexual bruhs over nitro coffee and poutine the next day.

(I swear to god, I leave the house repeating to myself, “You love people. All people. All people are love” but then I find myself standing on a porch with the likes of SOPHIE and I remember why I often dislike leaving the house.)

Ryan gave us the run-down on the rules, which included twisting doorknobs (all doors that open can be entered), sitting on chair-like objects (everything but the chairs in the tiny dining room could be sat upon), and red-curtained fireplaces (there is only one in the house and that was our cue to get down and crawl). I asked about pictures, because I know Corey’s head was going to blow up in wonder, and Ryan happily said that we could photograph our faces off for all he cared, and we were welcome to share them on any social media sites but that we would need permission from the artist if we want to, you know, put them on a blog or whatever.

I didn’t say anything but the whole time, I was thinking, “Does my zero-revenue-generating blog with 5 followers count?” Like, I didn’t want to ask and be laughed at. So I said nothing and figured OH WELL I just won’t post any. Except for that first photo down there of Corey, because that bell-thing comes up all over the place when you Google search the house so I made the executive decision that this was OK because I don’t really feel like bothering some German artist right now.

Once we were in the foyer, backs slightly arched to avoid Suffocation By Large Hanging Torture Bell, Ryan collected our jackets and sent us on our way. I was relieved that SOPHIE and her downtrodden date got a head start into the basement, leaving us free to explore without judgment.

We started in the basement, which had a boxing ring built in what appeared to be the garage. Here is where I want to start spewing out every single detail of what we saw, but I think it’s kind of worthless to just read the words instead of actually experiencing it. Because putting it here in type makes it seem like it’s someone’s refuse, belongings left behind, that were just strewn about haphazardly and stamped as Art. But it’s not like that — there is a method to the madness, rhyme to the reason…it’s just that I don’t know exactly what those methods and rhymes are because I’m not Thorsten Brinkmann.

The house’s innards have been completely revamped into what the inside of my head looks like, a/k/a an explosion of color, hidden passages, and filth.

The main floor was primarily built around vinyl and I had to really dig deep to keep from lying supine across all of the beauty. All of the “chair-like objects” in the living room had record covers adhered to the surface…so needless to say I came home with new dining room chair projects for Henry.

I lied. Two more pictures. Will I be arrested?!

The upstairs is where shit got real crunk. We had to crawl through a tiny fireplace and along secret corridors built between the floors and it was horrifying and exciting all at once! I am so claustrophobic and hate not knowing where I’m going, especially when tight spaces are involved. I think Chuck E. Cheese’s infamous Cheese Factory ruined me at a young age.

Please tell me you know what I’m talking about. It was the first introduction to trauma for many kids in the early 80s, and it was definitely my first encounter with the crippling fear of being abandoned and left for dead inside a giant wheel of Swiss cheese, inexplicably sound-tracked by ominous outer space bleeps.

This is how I felt about La Hütte, with the added sensation of voyeurism thrown in. There were times when it really did feel like sneaking around someone’s decrepit home.

The tour ended in the attic, when we burst through a door on a wave of Corey’s bombastic laughter to find SOPHIE and her ambivalent beau (ambivabeau?), seated in old beauty salon hair dryers and watching a film of Thorsten himself trying a number of ways to sit in a chair.

Afterward, Ryan (who was sitting in the corner and I didn’t even notice!) was anxious to get some sort of dialogue going but I refused to speak in front of SOPHIE so we all kind of just sat there while SOPHIE talked about being in COSTUME DESIGN SCHOOL and Ryan was like, “There’s a whole school for that?” So yeah, take that SOPHIE. Anyway, we stuck around while Ryan escorted them back down to the foyer and when he returned, we all had a nice chat about the house, the owner (who lives down the street in a really nice house with a black fence), the artist, etc. etc. Ryan told us that Thorsten built the installation around the history of the house and its previous inhabitants, and used most of the things he found around the house.

I was hoping he wouldn’t make us go around and offer our interpretations, because I am really horrible at that. I love art–I love making it and I love looking at it, but I rarely try to “figure it out.” I can only tell you how it makes me feel, and this house made me feel like Alice in Wonderland—like I was somewhere I wasn’t meant to be, and it was at times beautiful and quirky, and at other times creepy and uncomfortable. And in keeping with the Alice theme, I was reminded a lot of how I felt the first time I watched Alice, a stop-motion film by Czech director Jan Svankmajer, who also made Little Otik which absolutely wrecked me during my pregnancy.

While it’s not clear to me what Thorsten hopes visitors will take away from La Hütte Royal (I tried not to read too much about it before we visited), I personally felt like we were in an entirely different world. For most of our time in the house, I had no idea what floor we were even on, because there was so much crawling and climbing. I loved the play on dimensions and how space was completely fucked with—it was basically my dream house. In one room, I’d expect to see the white rabbit, and in the next, Leatherface. When can I move in!?

After a nice discussion with Ryan, we excused ourselves. “We’re going to eat PB&J now at Peanut Butter Jelly Time in Bloomfield,” I explained (IN CASE HE WANTED TO COME, TOO).

That sounds disgusting,” Ryan said.

Somewhere, PB&J is art, OK Ryan?

Sep 232015
 

As much as it sucked to part ways with Terri and Christian after breakfast at Panera (where Henry’s confident stride was in full effect thanks to Panera Worker Nikki, who was brusque and disgruntled to Chooch & me but apparently very sweet and accommodating to Henry), I was anxious to get on the road because it meant it was almost DUTCH HAVEN TIME.

It’s impossible to be anywhere in the eastern part of Pennsylvania without stopping for my favorite Dutch delicacy: motherfucking shoofly pie.

What? That’s what they call it. At night, after the bonnets come off. Motherfucking shoo-fly pie.

OK, you’re right, Google Translate. It’s probably moederfucking shoo-fly pie.

Actually, I wasn’t even going to ask if we could stop, because I had a feeling Henry was going to grunt something in a fatherly-fashion about how “it’s either shoo-fly pie or the shoe house; pick one!” and if I had to choose….it was going to be the shoe house, you guys. I know! What kind of fair-weathered shoo-fly pie eater am I? (Actually, I’ve eaten the shoo-fly in various types of weather.) So I kept my mouth shut and was rewarded when Henry suggested, all on his own, that we stop!


Some man working behind the pie counter asked us if we wanted a sample and we were like, “Pshhh, fuck that molasses-y noise, we want a SLICE.”

“Oh, you’ve been here before,” he said, but did not seem very excited about it. That’s OK. I wasn’t looking for enthusiasm to put in my mouth. Just some shoo-fly pie. Put it in there.

BAE.

(Do you guys remember the great shoo-fly pie tragedy of last fall? I’m #soblessed to have had the opportunity to eat the fuck out of it twice since then.)

Chooch has become obsessed with pumpkin pie somehow, behind my back, so that’s what he had. We were all very quiet and still while enjoying our pie outside of Dutch Haven.

Applauding the autumnal offerings.

Before we left, we stopped at the neighboring building, which used to be this creepy BBQ joint and is now a creepy popcorn joint. A young employee was outside on the porch, working hard at a popcorn machine. “Please, help yourself to the samples on the table inside,” he said in a strange robot-trying-to-act-human staccato. I think he was probably recently estranged from Amishdom, so not quite a shitty human being yet.

There were two elderly women in there, and the one was determined to make sure Chooch tried all of her favorite flavors, and then when that was done, she started pressing him for information on his favorite flavor profiles and he kept tossing me furtive glances, like I was even thinking about saving his annoying ass. HOW DOES IT FEEL, SUCKER? ANSWER THE QUESTIONS! The lady’s companion finally pulled her off of us and we were able to enjoy samples at our own leisure and without her staring at us expectantly.

We each chose a small container to buy and the other woman cried, “Well, what did you choose?!” It’s like they’re reporters for the Popcorn Times.

Or, you know, “just friendly,” according to Henry.

The only other notable moment of our drive home was when we stopped to eat the the Summit Diner in Somerset, and Chooch decided to reenact the time last December when Henry asked the waitress for a napkin, not knowing that there was an entire napkin dispenser on the table. So Chooch asked our waitress for our napkin, and then shot us giggling glances as the waitress said, “There’s some right there on the table, hon.” It was incredibly awkward because it looked like he was laughing at the waitress and she totally picked up on that; and since I was the one sitting next to the dispenser,  I had to go through the motions of getting him a napkin that he didn’t even need.

“Thanks for making me play a part in your stupid reenactment,” I mumbled, crumbling the napkin and chucking it at his face.

Sep 222015
 

A few years ago, we were going to Lancaster, PA for a Pierce the Veil show and I thought it would be incredibly fun to stop at this storied house that’s shaped like a shoe in Hallam — a true road tripper’s wet dream. I had seen it on some local roadside attractions show and started obsessing. Like I do. Since it was off-season, I emailed them two months in advance to see if we could stop by for a tour. The reply I got was curt and also kind of rude. I don’t remember what they said exactly, other than it made me rage vocally at my desk. I mean, don’t live in a shoe  if you don’t want people to email you about it!!

Fast forward to several weeks ago. My anger had subsided a bit over the years and I decided to look the house up again since we were going to be in the area in a few weeks. The website announced that not only was this still peak season, but the house had new owners! I asked Henry if we could stop for a tour on our way home from Philly this past weekend, and he said yes, which leads tme  to believe that he is either cheating on me or dying.

I excitedly told Glenn  that not only did I get my way about going to Philly, but Henry was also taking me to the shoe house!

“He really needs to stop rewarding behavior,” Glenn sighed. He was really happy when Henry initially said no to Philly because I came back from my break crying. But you know, THINGS CHANGE. It’s harder for Henry to say no to me in person, anyway.

The Haines Shoe House is really close to Rt. 30, so Henry couldn’t bitch about it being out of the way, like he did about every single place we stopped at on the way home from vacation last month. The man who built it in the 40s put it close to the highway so it cold be seen because it was essentially advertising his shoe company.

The tour is $5 a person, what a steal.

“Nope, I’m good,” Henry said as he handed me $10. Chooch wasn’t too excited about this either, but I was like, “DO NOT MAKE ME TAKE THIS TOUR ALONE, PLEASE, I BROUGHT YOU INTO THIS WORLD.” And he was like, “Yeah, a world full of stupid novelty houses to tour.” He and Henry just don’t get excited about these things.

After I paid the lady in the gift shop, she asked Chooch for his hand so she could stamp it. I stuck mine out too and she said, “Oh, no. We just do this for the kids.” She laughed a little and then realized my hand was still there. “But I mean, that’s fine, if you want a stamp too.”

“I mean, she basically is a kid, so…” Chooch said with a roll of his mean eyes. Shut up, Chooch.

She stamped my hand but didn’t even bother to re-ink the stamp first so it looks STUPID.

It’s supposed to be a shoe! You can’t even tell! Chooch’s was so much nicer than mine.

So then our tour guide came in and retrieved us. Immediately, she made a passive aggressive comment about not sitting on the furniture, because of course as soon as we entered the house, Chooch’s ass helped itself to an armchair cushion. But you guys, his leggggs. They were so tireddddd. He was so exhausteddddd. His life is so roughhhhh.

We learned some boring ass facts about Mahlon Haines and his shoe company. He was really into pimping out his company and even ran for Congress at one point just so he could essentially advertise his company with promotional compact mirrors. I didn’t know what else to say, every time the guide stopped talking and looked at me expectantly, so I just kept saying, “Wow, he was like, really smart.”

Chooch just looked really bored and annoyed the whole time, but I swear to god it was really cool to walk around and see that even the windowsills were curved. The guide kept encouraging me to take photos, and I’m so used to being told to not take photos so that I have to take clandestine spy-cam shots the whole time that I actually felt too nervous to take more photos than I did.

In the early days of the shoe house, Mahlon held contests for newlyweds to honeymoon in the shoe. In the honeymoon suite, there’s a laminated letter of marital advice he typed up for his guests. “YEAH, TAKE A PICTURE OF THAT!” the guide said when she saw me awkwardly taking out my phone. I felt so on the spot through the whole tour!

He really thought highly of himself.

My favorite thing about the house’s interior was the eccentric color scheme. The upstairs bedroom was mint and lavender, for fuck’s sake. I commented on this and the tour guide said that the new owners are actually in the process of repainting all of the walls neutral colors. “They’re trying to get the house back to the way it originally was, since the people who owned this for the last 15 years had it painted this way,” the guide continued, practically turning her nose up at the glorious hues. Apparently, they’re using old black and white photos as their reference. GOOD LUCK WITH THAT. You own a house shaped like a shoe! Why try to downplay that with a neutral interior of beige and egg white? Go big or go home!

In the maid’s quarters, the guide said, “I bet you’ve never seen one of those before!” pointing at an old sweeper leaning against the wall.

“It’s a vacuum. Mu grandma has one of those in her house,” Chooch said, spitting chunks of ennui onto the floor for the invisible maid to sweep up. He was just not impressed by a single thing in this giant shoe, but at least he was being quiet about it.


And then the guide instructed us to sit at the kitchen  table so she could take our picture, because that is apparently what all of the other tourists like to do. I got really nervous and stressed out because I hate having my photo taken and what if one of my furry-lovers sexted me while she was holding my phone!?

(Just kidding. I don’t have any furry-lovers. Yet. #Anthrocon2016)

But would you look at my happy face!? And Chooch’s pained expression.

Our guide said something about the arch at the top of the steps, so I took that as my cue to take a picture of it.

The tour was over after a soft 10 minutes. We found Henry in the parking lot, leaning against the car, and looking at boring Henry-things on his phone. Probably pallet DIYs and computer part auctions.  I made him go back into the gift shop with me because I didn’t have my wallet and I wanted a post card and a magnet to add to my growing tourist trap desk-shrine at work.

It’s actually pretty nightmarish, now that I really look at it. I found out later that Henry had checked in to the Haine’s Shoe House on Facebook, like he was actually so stoked to be there. He didn’t even go inside of it! What a shoe house poser fan.

There’s even a shoe-shaped doghouse in the yard. And Chooch wants everyone to know that he was “as calm as [he] was at the stroller place.” I asked him if he learned anything at the shoe house and he said no.

After we left, Henry kept asking me questions about the Haines shoe company and my response to every question was a solid, “I don’t know.” So, I guess I didn’t learn much either. Except that I need to do a better job advertising all of my crappy wares. Maybe Henry could build me a Jeffrey Dahmer-shaped house?

***

Today after work, I asked Chooch if he told any of his friends about the shoe house.

“Nah,” he shrugged. “I told them we went to Panera, though.”

OK that was cool too because it was when we had breakfast with Christian and Terri, but the Panera was not SHAPED LIKE A SHOE.

Sep 012015
 

Last winter, after we decided where this summer’s vacation was going to take us—-and Henry started bleeding money from all blue-collared orifices—-I excitedly consulted Roadside America to find all the ways to drag our trek back to Pittsburgh into a poorly-written modern remake of Homer’s Odyssey, only with less blood weddings, spiritual growth, and Latin declensions.

One of the “attractions” I read about was this mysterious-sounding African village in Sheldon, SC called Kingdom of Oyotunji. I sent Henry the link and received no response. Shocker. During the beginning half of our trip, I kept bringing it up, and Henry just kept saying things like, “We’re not going that way” and “It recently burned to the ground” and “Katy Perry is performing there all week.”

But I would not be deterred.

It turns out, when we left Savannah that Friday in July, the village was on our exact route to Charlotte, NC. Henry either must have had his guard down or was just that fatigued from fielding my lofty requests all week, because he actually turned off the highway when we arrived at the Sheldon exit! I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

“Is this place is even open?” he sighed. “It better fucking be open.” But I could tell that what he really meant was, “I hope it’s not open because I don’t want to go but I am still going to be mad if it’s not open because either way this is a waste of time and I hate you.” Over the years, we have learned to communicate through a series of huffy sighs, glares, and fists slamming against steering wheels.

Actually, their website said that they were open until 7:00 (it wasn’t quite 6 yet so we had time in our favor, at least), but they recommend that you email them if you want to stop by for a tour. I mean, I did that, but we were already about 20 minutes away so we were going to stop by regardless. Also, it seemed weird to me that this mysterious US-seceded African village in the Gulleh Geeche South Carolina low-country (I got that from their website because I’m a journalist now) even has the Internet and didn’t require me to send notice via carrier pigeon.

Just kidding. I’m not that culturally ignorant. But on that note, the Oyotunji community is something that I definitely know nothing about and I was genuinely interested in learning about how they live. (And also genuinely interested in making Henry feel uncomfortable, because he HATES taking tours of places.)
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Chooch was sleeping when we made it to the entrance of the kingdom, which required us to turn off the highway and continue on down a dirt road buffeted by forest. The whole time, Henry was murmuring, “I hate you. I fucking hate you. Fuck my life” through gritted teeth, while I cracked up next to him so hard that I was wheezing.

“It’s not fucking funny!” he said. BUT IT IS, HERNY.

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At the end of the path, we could see the gate to the compound, and Henry started to rejoice because it was closed.

“Yeah but keep going, maybe there’s a doorbell,” I urged, because we had come so far!

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Most of my pictures are blurry and out of focus because I guess I was just that excited about being there.

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Henry kept trying to tell me in a dozen different ways that this joint was closed, but too bad I noticed the “Blow Your Horn” sign next to the gate before he had a chance to gouge my eyes out with his strong and masculine Service thumbs.

“Blow the horn,” I demanded.

“No, I’m not blowing the fucking horn,” Henry hissed in response.

But if you ask Henry to do something enough times while consistently raising your voice until it’s a crackling screech, he eventually gives up and does the thing! So he reluctantly pressed down on the car horn and then we waited.

“No one’s coming,” he sighed, ready to throw the car into drive.

“Just wait!” I begged, holding my gaze hard against the big red doors.

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After about 30 seconds of nail-biting suspense, a man dressed in a white robe stepped out from behind a fence along the left-hand perimeter of the property.

“Oh great, Erin. Just great,” Henry huffed, lowering the window so the man could talk to us.

“Are you guys looking to do the tour?” he asked after we exchanged proper Southern salutations. (You know. “Hello”s were said.) Leaning across Henry, I emphatically nodded my head. You bet your white-robed ass I want a tour. I want to know all about the Oyotunji tribe! I was just getting ready to barrel-roll myself out of the car when he went on to explain that unfortunately, they’ve been mourning the death of their leader, in Africa, for the last three days and had closed the community off to the public for that.

“We open back up tomorrow though, if you’ll be in the area?”

Henry nodded and said something along the lines of, “Yeah, we might be.”

“I was actually just on my way out to take a shower when I heard you beep,” the man said, explaining that he’s not usually the one who gives the tours.

He then gave us a brief run-down of the community, told us how he’s originally from Florida but had shed his American citizenship 20+ years ago in favor of living a simple life in the woods of South Carolina. They’re a community of around 40 people, self-sustained, they home school their children, and basically live a life where no one has to give a shit about the things that Americans give a shit about that don’t even matter, like Donald Trump, the idiot Superbowl, and Miley Cyrus’s pasties.

I can only imagine how better behaved their kids are than Chooch.

This whole time, I was trying to maintain strong eye contact with him while chewing on the insides of my cheeks to keep from laughing outright. Look, please understand that I don’t think anything about their community is funny, and I certainly don’t find humor in the fact that they were all in mourning, but it was the situation itself: the detour into the woods of Beaufort County, Henry’s reluctance, the Jonestown Massacre vibe of it all….it was all of these things, like sitting in church during the homily and feeling that itch to laugh out loud for no good reason, that had me writhing in giddy discomfort.

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Some other tourist-sucker pulled in behind us about 10 minutes into our on-the-fly history lesson from our new robed friend. He quickly wrapped it up and then excused himself to go talk to the other visitor.

“Are we really going to come back tomorrow?!” I screamed as we slowly drove back out to the highway.

“Wha—-? No!” he said, his big bushy brows all furrowed.

“But when that guy asked if we were going to be in the area—”

“Yeah well, I didn’t mean it.” And he used his End of Story tone, so I sulked for awhile.

Oyotunji, I’ll be back for you someday.

But then we pulled over at the Carolina Cider Company! We had been on a mission to procure boiled peanuts the whole time we were in the south and finally, it was our time. On our last day, no less.

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Chooch was still sleeping, how he managed to sleep through all of the Oyotunji excitement, I’ll never know. At first, Henry was like, “Just crack the window, he’ll be fine.” But then I was overcome with paranoia and something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on….the overwhelming need to PARENT, maybe? Nah. I think I have it confused with the desire to not have Child Protective Services called on my ass.

What would the Oyotunji do, I thought hard to myself.  Aside from probably not giving a shit about boiled peanuts, I mean.

I went out to the car to wake up Chooch and proceeded to set off the car alarm. The proprietor of the cider establishment and the only two patrons there at that time stopped what they were doing in order to gawk at me from the open doors of the store.

“What are you doing!?” Henry yelled, marching over with the car keys to stop the alarm. SO SORRY THAT I WAS TRYING TO SAVE MY KID FROM ASPHYXIATION.

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So then I was able to save Chooch and he groggily followed me into the store while I excitedly told him about what he had missed, but I don’t think he believed me.

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Henry bought us stuff and boiled peanuts are weird as fuck, yet I couldn’t stop eating them.

Eventually, we made it to a shady Red Roof Inn, I mean shadier than the typical Red Roof Inn, in Charlotte. We had to pass Carowinds on the way, with its coasters all sexy and lit up against the night sky. I begged Henry to take us there but he was like, “IT’S NEARLY 10’O CLOCK AT NIGHT!” God, he always has an excuse.

Luckily, the Red Roof was only shady on the outside (i.e. the parking lot and the entire right section of the motel where I’m pretty sure people were living and since it was a Friday night, shit was popping off) and the inside was clean and recently remodeled. I realized that HENRY hadn’t fed us dinner, so he went to a vending machine and came back with snacks and a Snickers. THANKS, PA.

We live large on vacation.

***

Anyway, aside from some additional pictures from our travel day back to Pittsburgh, that pretty  much wraps up our whirlwind Southern road trip, which took me an entire month to recap. But holy shit, we did so much! I love these trips so much, and I know that they don’t really seem like “vacations” because we’re so go-go-go, but I couldn’t imagine sitting in one place for 7 days and “relaxing.” I honestly don’t know how to relax. I look forward to these trips so much because we get to see cool things, meet really awesome people, and make some pretty hilarious memories.

We hadn’t even crossed the Pennsylvania state line yet and I was already asking Henry where we’re going to go next. He just glared at me.