Jul 092008
 

I went through a short (five year) spell where I compulsively answered and posted personal ads for the sheer thrill of probable disaster. In the winter of 1999, a delightful man named Pete responded to one of my ads. After exchanging several cordial emails, I decided there was a fair chance he wasn’t keen on brandishing machetes, so I offered up my phone number.

He called me one night when my boyfriend Jeff was over. Jeff — yes, my boyfriend — was no stranger to my need to spread my wings of infidelity, so he busied himself with an episode of "Felicity" (the one where Brian Crackhouse raped the pink Power Ranger) while I carried on a merry conversation with Pete about all the various cereals we liked and how it was so hard to choose just one variety each morning.

Pete and I made plans to meet up one fine evening, and to be safe, I invited Janna over too. Because if he were to arrive wielding a chainsaw, at least I’d have a decoy. Minutes before Pete’s arrival, Janna called. "My mom won’t let me have the car because of the snow. I’m so sorry!" she whined, probably inwardly relieved that now she could stay home and watch PBS.

I tried to call Pete to cancel, but he had already left. I wondered about the possibility of him leaving the piano wire at home, on the kitchen counter, miles away from my vulnerable neck.

But he likes cereal so much, I pep-talked myself. It’s hard to imagine a serial killer enjoying a bowl of Apple Jacks, I assured myself, because that’s clearly grade A logic to apply.

When I opened the door for Pete, I was taken aback by his unexpected redneck visage. But once we got the handshaking out of the way, he settled down in a chair and conversation flowed freely. I was slightly irritated by his constant abbreviation for cigarette. "Let me light another ciggie," he’d announce, feeling the need to include me in his smoking schedule.

Then he pulled out a joint. I knew not to smoke it with him, because even when I’m with someone I’m supremely close to, my paranoia gets way out of control and of course every person in the tri-state area is vying to rape me. I want to sear my skin with a hot iron, leap from speeding vehicles, watch Olsen Twins videos.

So I did the rational thing in Erin’s World and joined him.

On TV, the news reports gave constant updates on the severe weather condition unraveling outside. I kept urging him to leave, and he would respond with obvious insinuations that he wanted to spend the night, which my marijuana-clouded mind translated as, "Imma treat ya like a pig, stuff an apple in yer mouth, and fuck ya silly from the bee-hind, you slutty broad. Who’s the cereal king now, ho?"

Oblivious to the pandemonium tap-dancing through my nervous system, he’d jiggle a cigarette between his fingers and say, "Just one more ciggie!" I sat on the couch, hunkered down among the pillows, arms protectively covering my boobs, legs bouncing with the verve and RPM of a bridge-dwelling paranoiac. I had cotton mouth and I wanted to go to bed. Maybe eat a PB&J.

He finally left after I completely closed off and started answering his questions with irate outbursts. I never heard from him again, which is a shame because we could have maybe made beautiful cereal together.

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May 182008
 

I: Getting There

The night before we left, I had Henry look up lodging for Corey and me while I was at work, since I am helpless and had more important things to do. My only criteria was: close to venue and cheap.

He sent me info for Red Carpet Inn, which had rooms for $49+tax. It was located in New Jersey, and it was only 3.5 miles away from the Wachovia Spectrum, where the Cure was playing Saturday night.

I quickly emailed him and said I’d take it.

“You realize this place isn’t going to be nice,” Henry chided in his reply. The user ratings all said, “You get what you pay for,” and I was OK with that because the more money I saved, the more shit I could buy throughout the trip, like Slim Jims and crack.

“Don’t you dare even think about calling and complaining,” Henry said the next morning, as he armed me with directions and SoyJoy bars.

Corey arrived at my house at 10:00 and, between filling up the gas tank with liquid gold and taking out some cash for the turnpike, etc., I managed to spend $71 before we even left Brookline. 

For the 300+ miles on the Pennsylvania turnpike, Corey and I mainly reminisced about  past displays of family dysfunction, which included Corey’s favorite Father-Daughter fight in which I screamed in my step-dad’s face that I wish he’d get his head cut off by the log splitter we had in our backyard. Corey was laughing, and I was too but the whole time I was thinking, “Yeah, but this was a stepping stone in the rickety path of dropping out of high school.”

I forced Corey to listen to a special mixed CD I made just for the trip, and he sarcastically cheered every time Chiodos came on. However, he is now obsessed with Dance Gavin Dance, which is more than I could have hoped for. Otherwise, I ridiculed him every time he disagreed with my musical tastes, you know, like every other obnoxious music snob does.

My favorite moment was when Corey told me he was going through my step-dad’s cell phone and discovered naked pictures of my step-dad’s girlfriend all bent over the back of the couch. Ten minutes later and it was all, “Remember when you found naked pictures of Daddy’s girlfriend?” and then we laughed all over again.

I’m not used to being the responsible one in these trips. My role is usually to wedge my fat ass in the passenger seat, armed with my vacation journal, beverage and snacks, switching up the music like it’s my destiny. Also, flirting with truckers and being  Annoying: Road Trip Edition. But this time, I had to pay attention to shit, like how the car was doing on gas, if all the tires were intact, all while keeping a general sense of where the fuck we were. Oh, the pressure. Corey was in charge of the directions, but every time I would ask him where we were, he’d stare ambivalently at the map and kind of shrug. So then I would call Henry and ask, “Hey, how much farther do we have?” and he’d get all mad because I wouldn’t be able to tell him where we were since I can’t read a map and then he’d have to go and turn the computer on (he was letting it rest while I was away) and by that time I’d be all, “Oooh we’re going through a tunnel! Bubbye!”

Directions-wise, it was smooth sailing until we made it to the Philly exits and had to get off the turnpike. Corey would play with my emotions by saying things like, “We need this next exit, No wait, next one. No wait this one!!” leaving me mere seconds to swerve onto the ramp. I screamed the whole way across the Ben Franklin bridge and somehow managed to take the wrong exit, which dumped us blindly into some small town called Gloucester.

 

 

We stopped at Coastal to get gas and when I started to get out of the car, an elderly employee came over and started pumping it for me. I learned later that night that it’s like, some weird law that all New Jersey gas stations are full service, and you would think that with me being such a fucking princess, I’d have really embraced this small display of pampering, but instead I panicked because I didn’t  know the protocol — was I supposed to tip him? Cheer him on? Wait silently in the car and pretend it’s not making me feel like an entitled White Person to have a Mexican work for me? I kept asking Corey but he was all, “I don’t know, this is weird and I think he hates us and I want to go” so we sped away when he was through.

I had to call Henry once again so he could get us to our motel (at this point, I didn’t even know the name of it) and our conversation went something like this:

 

Henry: What are you near?

Me: A black lady in really high boots.

Henry, sighing angrily: What are you near?

Me: A chocolate covered pretzel store.

 While Henry was busy trying to find out where we were, I pulled over and Corey ran into the chocolate-covered pretzel place to ask a local for help. Henry kept asking me for street names, and I would answer him with very important information, like:

“Ew that guy just looked at me!” and “I hope Corey buys some delicious confections while he’s in there. The sign says they’re the best.”

Corey returned with directions at the same time Henry found us on a map. To keep Henry’s ego from deflating, I chose his directions and proceeded to doubt him the entire time, saying that I should have listened to the pretzel lady’s directions instead, which caused him to yell back and say things like, “I AM NOT THERE. I AM IN PITTSBURGH. I CANNOT SEE WHAT YOU ARE SEEING.” Then he was all, “Fuck you, find it yourself,” and hung up on me.

Both sets of directions ended up being right. The pretzel lady said we’d know we were there when we saw the Pennant night club and Weber’s burger stand, and by golly she was right.

II : Red (from blood stains) Carpet Inn

“It looks like a concentration camp,” Corey groaned as we pulled into the Red Carpet Inn. It was the kind of place that people retreated to after their slum lords evicted them; the kind of place where people crept off to have lunch break affairs; the kind of place that had mattresses broken enough for people to appropriately OD on. Corey and I just may have been the only legitimate travelers staying there.

If you can, try to remember back to the last time you emptied fifty-eight ash trays in the center of your living room and then steeped it with Pine-Sol and the musty stench of your Aunt Mary’s baby doll collection. Yeah, you remember? Well, that’s what it smelled like it in the closet-sized check-in office.

We  had to wait for a man in front of us to check in, which provided us with the idle time necessary for a complete giggle breakdown. It started with Corey, who had to bring a fist to his mouth to stifle the laughter. The old woman on the other side of the bullet-proof windows shot us dirty scowls and I tried to bury myself in a Chinese take-out menu that I lifted from the counter. Corey tried to hide his laughter by turning to look out the window, nearly knocking over the “Free Use for Guests” 1980’s-model microwave off it’s shaky stand.

After receiving no pleasantries from the clerk, not even a nicotine-ravaged “Welcome to New Jersey,” we had our key handed to us and  found that our room was the last one in the row, and luckily for us the door wasn’t visible from the lot. A small vestibule with a flickering overhead light had to be entered to find our door. It was the perfect setting for a late night mugging, stabbing, gang rape, tranny hooker wardrobe change.

 Once inside, I was relieved to find that the room itself wasn’t too bad. It seemed to be clean, as promised by the hand-written note left on the desk, declaring that some broad named Lillian cleaned it with her own bare hands. There were some stains on the towels and sheets, along with the standard array of cigarette burns dotting the shower curtain.

 The lone window in the room gave us a view of the lustrous grounds behind the motel. I looked out and, oh good, saw two shacks — just perfect for stowing murder victims, a troupe of Romanian sex slaves, and bricks of cocaine. Personally, I liked to hope that the Holy Grail was in there somewhere, shoved in the anus of a drug mule.

 The bathroom light seemed a little short-winded, so I walked back to the front desk to request a new bulb. On my way there, one of the residents — a young guy in a brown t-shirt — emerged and sat in front of the door, lighting up a cigarette and staring me down. Probably he was trying to gauge if I was a potential client, maybe trying to size me up for my preference — coke, pot, meth, grande-cocked Mexicans. Hopefully he was checking out my boobs, too.

Back in  the office, I had to ring the bell multiple times, praying that I wasn’t interrupting some underground cock fight or sex party, before the no-nonsense old desk clerk came out of the back room. When I told her the bathroom light wasn’t working very well, she impatiently shook her head and said, “No, it works. You gotta leave it on for about five minutes, let it warm up.” I started to thank her, but she had already turned her back on me.

“I don’t think that old lady in the office likes me,” I whined to Corey, chaining the door shut behind me.

“Well no shit. We were practically laughing in her face when you were checking in.”

A few minutes later, a domestic dispute broke out in the parking lot.

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Apr 212008
 

Kara was in town over the weekend and invited me to lunch at Zenith. It was really her friend Valerie’s idea, whom I was excited to finally get to meet after knowing her on LiveJournal for a few years. However, Kara made the mistake of telling me that her fiancé Chris commented that Valerie and I have really different personalities and he wondered how well we would get along. This of course turned into the Telephone Game and by the time I told Henry what Chris had said, it went something like, "Chris said Valerie is a crazy asshole and she’s secretly hated me for twenty years and is going to be waiting for me in an alley with barbed wire, a chainsaw and a turkey baster and OHMYGOD!"

Turns out, Valerie was really nice and I didn’t hate her and she didn’t seem to hate me either. People usually like me for the first three months, so we’ll check back with her over the summer.

Zenith is half vegetarian restaurant with an amazing tea menu and half antique shop with a mother lode of religious icons and musty racks of polyester muumuus; I saw at least eight dresses that I desperately want to purchase for the animal mask photo shoot, Kara found a new wedding dress, and Valerie found a very Blanche Deveroux bathing suit. It’s a good thing she didn’t buy it, because she totally wouldn’t have looked right in it unless she built a lanai off the back of her house and furnished it with white wicker, which she should actually do and then invite me over every weekend so I can lay out and read some Danielle Steele. Maybe also she can brew up some mint tea and serve me some of that shit.

And even though Zenith has quite possibly the best collection of wall-mounted owl tsotchkes to ogle while taking a piss, my favorite part was our server, Keith. (I’m pretty sure he was Kara and Valerie’s favorite part, too, but I could be wrong. No, wait, I’m always right.) Even in his sleepy state, he was personable and helpful and super cute; he would make lazy laps around the empty restaurant, butting into our conversation now and then. When I asked to take his picture, he initially declined, maybe in fear that I would Photoshop it and he’d find himself on some raunchy, nude waitstaff website — I have that shady, no-good look to me, I guess.  I eventually talked him into it and for someone who, minutes earlier, was so opposed to the prospect of being photographed, he began busting out an arsonal of GQ poses with no hesitation.

This picture does no justice to his awesomeness! I keep wanting to call him Ben, though. He really looks like a Ben to me.

Keith brought us out our side salads, the largest salads I’ve ever seen stuffed into really small bowls; it was like the vegetation version of clown cars. As soon as he set the bowls down in front of us, leaves of lettuce the size of elephant ears began unfolding and springing forth. It was the most difficult, not to mention aggressive, salad my fork tines have ever speared.

After feeling like I had just slashed my way through a jungle in ‘Nam, Keith delivered my black bean burger which was capped with another lettuce leaf the size of a yarmulke. "Oh good, more lettuce," I said before casting it to the side.

Meanwhile, Valerie and Kara talked about cheese and condom-wrapped plunger sticks, but I was too busy trying to keep my mind from detonating over all the photographical ideas that place was feeding me. I want to go back there every day until I exhaust every vision I have, or drink every tea on their menu, whichever comes first.

Valerie's feet in the bathroom!

(More photos here.)

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Apr 142008
 

Holy shit, sad!Eleanore’s not here tonight, which is a blessing (it’s quiet!) and a curse (it’s quiet!) all at once. I’m not missing the way she tapdances upon my nerves, but now there’s NO ONE sitting near me so I can’t swivel in my seat and start talking.

Except to myself.

So I took a picture of myself which I’m going to print out and tape up in front of me to make the conversations more legit.

My friend Amelia sent me a surprise package today which completely made me squeal. It came at the best time, too — I was just leaving for work when the mail girl hurled it upon my porch. Asshole.

I dare you to pull out my crown, Gummi Heart.Hidden under a mound of that sparkly silver ribbon stuff that my cats love to eat then regurgitate was pretty much a mother lode of odds and ends; in other words: stuff that someone weird like me would covet. In addition to a black baby doll, a pair of doll arms, a roll of b&w 120 film (which I needed!) and two small handmade notebooks (scribbling has already commenced) was a giant gummi heart, the kind of delicious treat that I’ve always wanted a Valentine to place into my outstretched hands, perhaps with a pack of Garbage Pail Kids for that extra special touch.

The back of the package says:

THUMP THUMP BEAT BEAT

MY HEART FOR YOU

THAT’S OH SO SWEET.

Who doesn’t want that?? Skinheads, animal sacrificers, and Kathie Lee, that’s who.

So now instead of doing actual work, I’ll be overdosing on candy organs and sticking doll parts in things, which is much better than Thursday night, when I listened to Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge* for six hours straight and dreamt of slowly draining the blood from my veins. Thanks, Amelia!

(*I know, what the fuck, right? More proof that I’m secretly sixteen.)

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Apr 032008
 

Southgate House

The night before I left Pittsburgh, I started to lose my voice at work. I had been sick all week with some kind of throat thing and general congestion, but nothing was stopping me from seeing Xiu Xiu. By the time we left Huddle’s Café, I possessed the vocal prowess of a dying frog and began coughing my lungs up all over the grimy streets of Newport. My gift to ye, Kentucky.

Christina and I jaywalked back to the Southgate House at 9:00pm. The ticket person wasn’t there yet, so we loitered in the hallway with several other people who were all staring listlessly at the wide array of concert posters plastered along the walls. I took clandestine pictures of the people in front of us because at the time, it offered more enjoyment than conversing with Christina.

It wasn’t until around 9:45pm that the ticket people finally filled their seats behind the table and we got to enter the ballroom area of the building. Small round tables were scattered around the room, and we grabbed the last empty one near the stage. If I had any foresight into how much time we were about to spend at that table, I’d have lugged in a La-Z Boy on Christina’s back.

I’m not really offended by indie/hipster types, the dominant populace of the venue that night, but Christina developed an immediate disdain for the girls with Pocahontas-style headbands and messy half-ponytails. "I was just thinking that some of these girls are cute, but the fact that I know they’re assholes ruins it for me."

Xiu Xiu

It’s people like Christina who keep our nation from kicking prejudice. Okay, and me, too.

It wasn’t until 10:30 that Thao with The Get Down Stay Down took the stage with their inoffensive brand of indie-folk. In other words, it was pleasing to the ear, but boring. It made me feel really hungry though because I couldn’t stop thinking about how they would have sounded so much better if they were the house band at a restaurant and my back was toward them while I shoved spaghetti-wrapped forkfuls into my gaping maw.

Then I started to think about how I hadn’t eaten in five billion hours and my nose was starting to run and I couldn’t stop coughing and I really wanted to die. Plus, my aging body isn’t used to attending 21+ shows that don’t start until after 10:30 at night and so I kept yawning and resting my cold-stuffed head on my hands and basically illustrating how NOT to act if you don’t want everyone to know you’re the token square at the show.

Also, probably you shouldn’t use words like "square," either.

During Thao’s set, a Super Tall Guy meandered over to the throng of people that had slowly collected at the front of the stage, obstructing our view completely. I didn’t care, because I was only there to see Xiu Xiu, but we still got pissy about it because that’s what we do at shows, us old people — we bitch and complain about those goddamn kids with their long fucking torsos and mop-topped heads that make better doors than windows. When the second tallest guy in the room sauntered up behind him, we lost it.

Then the two most annoying girls in Kentucky wandered over and stopped, naturally, directly in front of our table. I’m not sure exactly why they chose that particular spot, but there was feet upon feet of empty floor separating them from the stage. I thought that maybe they were deliberating where to go, but no. No, they planted their feet down, staked the floor with a flag bearing their name, and stayed there during the entire set. They even gradually migrated further back until the one girl’s asscheeks were nearly resting on the edge of our table. Christina suggested using the threat of rape to get them to stand elsewhere and then tried to slip one of my Moo cards in their back pockets. The one girl wore an ugly tweed blazer and seemed to be confused with where to place her feet; she kept shuffling them like a deck of cards, but then I noticed she was also swaying and slightly moving her arms, and that’s when it occurred to me she might be dancing. A male friend joined them later and he danced as though he was listening to Yacht rock.

I’ve never been more embarrassed to be white.

The next band to play was Why?, short for Why Are They Still on the Stage Oh My God Kill Me Want To Die Please End It All Now WTF Do They Think This Stage Is Their Summer Time Share? Turns out Why? is originally from Cincinnati and 75% of the people there that night were there to support them specifically. We’re talking everyone they knew from college. People from their sixth grade study hall. Bus boys who may have once refilled their water at Olive Garden in 1997. Their parents. 

Before the inaugural note even had a chance to resonate in the atmosphere of the room, the crowd went fucking apeshit. People were clotheslined against the balcony, frantically waving in the air, lips moving along with the lyrics. The crowd in front of the stage amassed a head count that quadrupled what it was for Thao.

It sounded like they said they were only playing three songs from their new album, but after ninety minutes of relentless xylophone malleting, I realized what they meant was, "We’re going to play three songs from our new album, ten songs from other albums, some B-sides, I’m going to try and sing the Star Spangled Banner and then give up when I forget the lyrics after the second line [this really happened], and then if we start running out of material, I’ll sing a song I wrote when I was four about how dogs sniff butts and girls have vaginas and I think I might too."

They would tease us, Christina and me. They would say things like, "We’re going to play one more song," and we’d exchange looks of utter relief, thinking there was a God after all, Christina would kiss her imaginary rosary, but then after that one last song they’d start playing another song that sounded like the song two songs before the last song that was supposed to be their last song and why did they have to have so many songs? I was getting sicker, coughing harder, speaking less. I even fell asleep a few times because it was after midnight by this point and I was TIRED.

During one song, the singer stopped and said, "That got messed up, so we’re going to start that verse over again," and the crowd went wild. "YES PLAY IT AGAIN! WE LOVE YOU! WHY? FOREVER!" Clearly, Why? is a band of local heroes. Then to our horror, someone would shout, "PLAY ONE MORE SONG!" and dozens of people would follow and Christina would shout, "NO DON’T!" loud enough for both of us since my voice was completely gone by then and no one actually retaliated against Christina’s protests but I wasn’t ruling out a potential beating with orange-stuffed socks after the show. She kept shouting, "XIU XIU! WE WANT XIU XIU!" to counter the pleas for more songs, and I was relieved that I taught her how to pronounce their name. (Shoo-Shoo, not Zyoo-Zyoo.)

Look, they were a decent band. Probably I’d have written a glowing review if they kept their set down to a thirty minute maximum. You know, since they weren’t HEADLINING.

What I’ll always remember about Why? is that the world’s most huggingest couple stood in front of our table and used their music as the soundtrack for all the hugging and lower back-caressing they shamelessly engaged in. I’ve seriously never seen two people spontaneously embrace with such nauseating passion and urgency. The man was about to leave to get a beer and they hugged as though he was never coming back.

By the time Why? left the stage, it was nearly 1:00am. I looked at Christina with sad eyes and croaked, "I don’t think I’m going to make it." But then Xiu Xiu came out and started setting up, reminding me that I had driven five hours to see them. Even though I was so sick, probably had a fever, may have been hemorrhaging from all the forceful coughing, I still marched my ass up to the front of the stage because I’d be damned if any fucking hugger or tall Indian-sweatered douche was going to block  my view. Christina stood behind me, just in case I succumbed to the sickness and fell to the floor, I guess, and we watched curiously as Xiu Xiu dragged their carnival of instruments onto the stage. They had a gong, a hand-pumped piano, some weird Casio-looking keyboard that was played like a clarinet, a flute, whistles.

Xiu XiuCaralee of Xiu Xiu gave her synth one last fiddle and then they started playing. As soon as the singer, Jamie Stewart, opened his mouth to utter the first string of lyrics, wrapped with dramatics and dipped in pain, I turned to look at Christina. I’ve never before seen so much of the whites of her eyes and her lip was slightly curled back, exposing her teeth. She looked fearful, like she had just walked in on her mom fucking a dwarf. The room buzzed with dulcet tones of chimes and electronic beeps while Jamie’s voice would fluctuate between anguished whispers and short phrases spoken in a staccato’d monotone before launching into soaring crescendos that socked the breath out of my lungs and made my heart ache. The mood would go melancholy again, lyrics murmured with delicacy, mellow strumming of a guitar, only to jar the crowd with unexpected crashes and stangulated shrieks.

Jamie had a tower of cymbals in front of him and he would occasionally grab a fat drumstick and sweetly tap at them. He would start to walk away, only to turn back and lunge at the cymbals, violating them with frantic beatings while shouting, "Oh my God oh my God oh my God" into the mic. His face would contort into the primal twisting of a killer, sweat dripping down his temples in rivulets. I forgot about being sick. Though I was still using the edge of the stage to keep myself from folding.

Xiu Xiu

Xiu Xiu’s music is dark, bleak, unsettling. I admit that if I’m driving alone at night and one of their songs comes on, I’ll usually skip it because it makes me shiver and instinctively toss furtive glances over my shoulder.

During one song, Jamie fell to his knees and continuously screamed into the mic while scraping a metal washboard, his tortured soul was vomiting angst and passion all over the stage, and it was one of the most satisfyingly horrifying things I have ever seen. I was telling this to Collin and he looked confused, having heard one of Xiu Xiu’s songs before. "But they don’t sound like a heavy band," he argued. A band doesn’t have to be playing Viking metal to earn the right to belch out blood-curling cries. Don’t let Xiu Xiu fool you into thinking they’re some cute little indie art band, because they made me want to hold my mommy’s hand.

In 2004, I wrote this in my LiveJournal:

When I listen to Xiu Xiu, I drift off into a different realm that’s occupied by talking antique dolls that reside in a pastel village surrounded by millions of miles of open pastures and no neighboring towns. I’m dressed like a ballerina with a thick ribbon tied around my neck, only it’s tied too tight and I run around scratching my neck, trying in vain to remove it, while people roam around me with vacant smiles and backward limbs. And even though the sun is shining, the sky is dark.

Then I come upon a tiny steeple and the singer from Xiu Xiu speeds out on a unicycle and starts singing "Clown Towne" in my face while throwing over sized lollipops at me. His smile is so wide and then I notice that it’s because the sides of his mouth are ripped. Then he starts stabbing me while albino midgets stand around giggling and throwing confetti.

And then I’m raped by a mannequin.

But I still listen to Xiu Xiu. I kind of like feeling disjointed.

Four years later and I still feel the same way. By the time their set ended at 2:00am, I was wide awake and wanted to rehash every single moment of it the whole way back to Christina’s house. Of course, as we walked out, I overheard people complaining about not getting what they wanted. "They didn’t play ‘Fabulous Muscles!’" some people griped to each other. I scowled at the complainers as I walked out. They could have played the same song over and over for the entire set and I still would have been grateful at the opportunity to see them. It easily secured a slot in my Top Ten Best Shows.

 

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Mar 172008
 

We drove past our local amusement park — Kennywood — yesterday while out and about. Usually, seeing the hill of the Phantom’s Revenge jutting out from the park, appearing to touch the clouds, barely fazes me, but yesterday it kind of shocked me with a thrill. Maybe because it’s about to open in two months and I’m about over this whole snowy weather prison sentence. Soon, they’ll de-winterize the park: tarps will come off and gates will open, affording a new wave of teenage girls the opportunity to give blow jobs under the pavilions. (Hopefully, some bolt-tightening action will take place somewhere along the line too.)

In anticipation for a new season of giving Henry gray hairs at amusement parks, here’s my all-time favorite Kennywood entry.


June 17, 2007

 

What better way to honor my favorite motion-sensitive father than by orchestrating an afternoon at Pittsburgh’s little amusement park, Kennywood? I even paid for him. I know, try and wrap your head around that one. I know!

I allowed Janna to join us, so that I could have a riding partner while Henry played stroller chauffeur. Clearly I was having a lapse in judgment at the time I extended my invitation to her, because she’s a big crybaby when it comes to 75% of the park’s rides and she’s near-deaf so I have to activate my echo. I think that sometimes she just pretends to hear me, because she’ll smile and laugh, but her eyes are screaming, “Help us, help! We’re so confused! Did she make a joke or is she postulating seriously about Darfur? I don’t know! Just laugh anyway! OK!” My favorite is when she laughs and then moments later asks, “Wait—what?”

This strange phenomenon plagues my conversations with Henry, too, although I have strong evidence backing the fact that he’s just ignoring me.

When we came last year, Riley was too young to ride anything other than the boring, waste-of-fifteen minutes train ride, but this time he boasted the ability to advance on foot at a moderate pace, albeit changing direction more times than a pinball. I had the pleasure of escorting him on his inaugural ride, a watered down roller coaster that took all of five seconds to whir around a wavy track before the miserable employee pulled back the brake and asked us in his best Ben Stein impression if we wanted to ride again. I really didn’t because it was a lot jerkier than I imagined it would be and I bruise easy, but I didn’t want to infer any wrath of the inner city children behind me.

I kept a protective arm around Riley and watched his face the entire time: his expression never faltered. He was stoic, with his lips set in a straight, firm line; it was as if he only came on the ride based on a threat and he’d be damned if he was going to let any tears run loose.

After the second lap — which was shaky at best — Riley and I were the first to exit, putting me in charge of the daunting task of unlatching the exit gate. When it became clear that my attempts were going to continue to be feeble, the mom behind me reached over my shoulder and flipped the latch, saving us all. Thank god for moms like that; you know, the ones who can open things.

We let Riley conquer a ride that featured helicopters and flying saucers which circled around while rising and lowering for about thirteen thousand boring rotations. Every time his saucer would pass our stakeout at the fence, he’d purposely ignore us. He’d wave and acknowledge all the other parents, though. I’m so glad my fourteen-month-old son is already mastering the art of snubbing.

 


Some more here

He didn’t crack a smile on that one, either. Obviously, Kennywood is serious business for my son. He might as well have been riding the bus to work, that’s how much disdain was clouding his face.

We took him on some other rides too, but he was mainly just interested in trying to get himself kidnapped. Stranger danger, what now?

The air that day was heavy with humidity, the kind of weather that leaves a sebaceous film over your face. The kind of salty film that’s best served with some Italian bread. The kind of film that springs forth when you’re knocking back a few in the corner pub and a traveling banjo player comes in and sits at the bar next to you and he isn’t really that good-looking and kind of has a noxious, perma-stench of cabbage emanating from his pits and his tongue is coated with slime, but after your third whiskey he looks mildly inoffensive so you lure him out the back with a theoretical bone of “Hey, play that banjo for me out in the alley, you hot piece of asshole-love” and then you lock the back door after him and bludgeon him with your prosthetic leg and then fuck his dead body in a dumpster. You know, that kind of film?

What better way to hose down the oil slick and neutralize Janna’s body odor than by hopping in line for a water ride? The Log Jammer’s line looked nonthreatening in length, but we were deceived. We had the awesome luck of standing behind a guy who had his name tattooed on the back of his neck in a very effeminate script. Janna thought it said “Jocko,” I thought it said, “Fucko,” but it really said…Oh my God, I completely don’t give a fuck.

At one point, I had that sensation that I was about to be assassinated. You know? My eyes darted all though the surrounding trees and I hoarsely alerted Janna to the situation. Of course she didn’t hear me, making me repeat the sensitive information even louder. I don’t think she heard me correctly, because she cheerfully shouted, “Oh my god, you should totally be an assassin!”

Sure, that would be the perfect profession for me! I mean, if there was suddenly a high demand for obvious assassins. Can you imagine, me and all that grace I lack? “Heeheehee, there’s my target!” while my flip-flops would be slapping all over the place, alerting my target to my presence, even if they were semi-deaf like Janna. “Heeheehee, oh my God lining up my target inside these crosshairs makes me have to pee so bad! Ha ha ha!”

Yeah, Janna. Good one.

Oh boy, did Janna and I have quite the romantic journey in our log jammer. We hadn’t even gone down any hills yet and she was already asking me if I was wet. I have to admit, I was a little uncomfortable at the sexual connotations she was slinging.

“Are you wet yet? Did you get wet? Have you been caressed with the wetness?”

Jesus Christ, Janna! Yes, my skin is slightly lubricated after that last bend. Would you like to borrow some?

What the fuck?!

I had low expectations from the moment Kennywood’s turnstiles molested our pelvises, because Janna and Henry are both adamantly anti-spin. No thrill rides for them, it might aggravate their arthritis and make them paint backs of heads with their lunch.

But after the Log Jammer we came upon my favorite ride in Kennywood, the Aero360. All the other death traps can suck a fucking dick as far as I’m concerned. Especially the ones that think they’re hot shit, like that asshole that calls itself SwingShot. I took a few moments to pause and salivate, nearly genuflecting to really bring it home. Then I gave Janna some killer puppy dog eyes.

“No, Erin. Oh no, I already told you I won’t ride that!”

There were only six people in line. I could have spit on her. Then I looked up at the occupants currently enjoying being flung in the air like bean bags and took note that most of them were children. Children.

I used this as leverage.

“Janna, you douche, how the fuck are you going to be a teacher when you won’t even ride the same rides as your could-be students?” I dug my nails into the back part of her arm so she would see just how serious I really was.

This is not true. I’m not really that mean to Janna. Not right off the bat, anyhow. I lured her into line by ensuring her that mothers had been known to take their infants for a trip on the good ol’ Aero360 so really, what did she have to be afraid of?

She took careful notes as we stood in line, even counting how many rotations the ride engaged in. I answered all her whiny, fear-scented questions with emphatic nos, even when I knew in my heart that I should be hyena-ing maniacal yess all up in her grill while spraying her with laughter-launched torrents of spit.

I saved all of my sinister and cruel needling for when we were already strapped securely into our seats and there was nowhere for her to take refuge. I really lucked out when a group of four older people sat in our section and showed interest in sharing my feast of Janna’s fear.

We screamed your standard caveats of Your harness is coming undone! and Did you hear those bolts shooting out?! along with things tailored more specifically to Janna, like Die, die, die you fucking ho-bag penguin dick-sucker, you fucking dumb ass ugly hooker fucker! and You smell like the used up, soggy, saliva-drenched reed from a clarinet played by a homeless Albanian with AIDs, you fucking whore-tits!

I’m not sure if she could hear any of that over top of her own funeral dirge, though.

My favorite part was when the ride was over and I bolted, while Janna took her good old time reacquainting her feet with terra firma and searching for her sunglasses in the loose items box. I found Henry and together we watched as Janna emerged from the gate. Her face started out lax, then tensed up a little in an expression of fear, then hardened as she figured out she had been purposely ditched and thought, “Hey, fuck this, where are they?”

Cue Henry with the lecturing. “Go and get her, don’t be so mean,” he said as he nudged my shoulder. Can I ever have fun? I mean, really.

After I fetched Janna, I insisted on reliving the experience as we were suspended limply and helplessly, upside down and like, a lot of feet from the ground.

“Wasn’t it invigorating? Like showering in a natural spring?” Janna vehemently disagreed, but maybe I should have mentioned the coconut-bikini. Sometimes, fruity-tits make all the difference in the world.

Then we rode some other things, stood around looking lost, I removed a tampon. You know, really Fun Stuff.

Finally, Janna had tired of having her intestines jostled and suggested that Henry and I take a gander together. I immediately tugged on his arm and ooh’d like an ape, while he simultaneously asked, “Is there a ride where I get to stab her with a knife?”

We opted on a roller coaster, the Thunder Bolt. It’s a good thing that the line was only about two minutes long, because I was floundering on the conversation tip. Henry was in one of those moods where he’d rather be refueling an air plane and killing pet ducks in Panama, and those are things that I sadly just can’t give him. So instead he had to listen to me prattle on about the employees’ water bottles that were propped up across the tracks and did he think they washed them out every night?

I guess the fact that I perpetually whined about how I wished I was there with Christina and not him didn’t really inspire him to contribute to the conversation.

Then it was our turn to ride and I was super concerned about the safety of his glasses, which he stuffed down his shirt like a bra-padder, and I don’t think he appreciated it at all. He was in such a big hurry to get off the ride that he ran right in to some innocent little girl and never even paused to ensure she didn’t skin a knee.

He got his pay back toward the end of the night when we were standing in line for this really stupid and boring car ride that I thought my son would enjoy but silly me, I keep forgetting that my kid only takes pleasure in things like socking me in the mouth and the opening theme of “Days of Our Lives.”

So there was this dumb bitch in front of us; she was, oh I don’t know, seven maybe? This ride demands that you must have a partner in order to make people like Janna remember how loserish they really are, and this particular girl was in a tizzy because her mom hadn’t joined her in line yet. Finally, she approached us (and after finally seeing her, I realized the delay was surely because she was underneath a pavilion, smoking the crack pipe) and the little girl asked Henry if it was OK for her mom to cut ahead of us. She even batted her eyes, which annoyed me. I hate girls that remind me of myself!

Initially, Henry said it was OK, but then he jokingly sneered, “What if I said no?” because he really knows how to charm the pants off the pre-teen set. The girl discarded her apple pie demeanor in favor of a haughty stance and wicked glare.

“I don’t think that would be a problem,” she hissed. I waited for her to launch Henry back against a tree with the sheer power of the hate radiating from her Village of the Damned eyes.

And then I wanted ice cream and Henry foiled my plan, which made the walk back to the car a very long, embittered one. Now I know how Jesus felt. I’ll never forget how my beloved Aero360 looked on the cusp on our departure, all lit up against the mauve sky, like Kennywood’s own little whore house on the Sunset Strip.

Later that night, Henry recounted all the gay ass homemade t-shirts he saw various men wearing. You know, the sort that boasts — in an array of cracked puffy paint — how many apples they have on the tree, or flowers in the garden, and hooray for fathers, let the world never run dry of them. Sorry Henry, I didn’t have enough time, what with working full time, nurturing our son, and you know, updating all five billion of my blogs. Maybe next year I’ll darn you some socks.

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Feb 222008
 

 

I don’t know why I was so intent on finding contacts for my Blackberry messenger. I mean, I never even use AIM. I sign on once a month, maybe three times for the hell of it, but then I walk away and people send me messages saying things like "omg ur on??!?!!?!?!!" and "hi" with no punctuation and when something doesn’t have punctuation, I’m unsure how to read it. At least cap it off with an emoticon so I know what I’m dealing with.

If I sign on, my mom sends me YouTube links and spells lots of words wrong.

People have already taken me off their Blackberry contact list. For being a bad contact, I guess. A fair-weathered contact. I had this one guy, Brackett. He asked for a pic. "Got a pic?" he asked. I sent him one. He said I was hottt. Three t’s is flattering. That means he’s hoping I’ll ask about his cock-size. Or that he’s fifteen. I know these things lead to cybering, so I choose my words wisely. My cybering verve is rusty. He said he would send me a picture when he got home. He didn’t, not ever. We chatted semi-consistently for a week. Maybe two. The morning after game night, he hit me up and said, "Hey, how was the party?" A nice personal touch, I felt.

He has a friend who lives a few towns over from me. Said he felt like he should visit her sometime soon, she just had a baby. Maybe he could visit me too. I giggled and sent him a smiley, then laughed about it with my co-workers.

But then the week I was sick, I didn’t meet his needs, I suppose. Didn’t respond to his salutations with suitable speed and before I knew it, I was off his list. Blacklisted. Defriended. Banned.

Another one of my contacts goes by Renegade. He sends me daily jokes. I LOL so he knows I read them. They’re not funny though. I mean, I don’t even smile when I read them. Lately, Renegade has been trying to converse with me. "Mornin’ beautiful" he’ll say and I snicker because he doesn’t know what I look like. Mostly it takes me a day to reply.

Today he told me he’s a trucker and my thoughts on Renegade changed. He went from being That Lame Joke Guy to Awww, A Trucker. I like truckers. (Real ones, not posers like Henry.) Maybe it’s because my biological father was one. Maybe I like their hats and their rugged flannels flanked by padded vests. Maybe I like that whole sleazy stereotype of  truckers with pork rind crumbs in their beards getting sucked off in the shadows of highway rest stops. They’re like warriors. Wheeled warriors trekking through an American wasteland, bandanna flapping in their wake, pile of Slim-Jims on the dash.

My grandparents had this Cadillac when I was a kid. It came attached with a CB. Mostly, none of the truckers would ever respond to me on it, but this one night,  this one promising night on the way home from dinner at Blue Flame, I sat in the passenger seat, bogged down with frustration. I repeated all the things my Pappap told me to say that supposedly bait truckers, things that would make them think I was one of them. Lots of things like "10-4" and "I got your back door" and "plain wrapper up ahead" and other things I don’t remember because I was only five so back the fuck off. But on that night, someone finally took my bait. He was an old trucker named Sloppy Joe. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I bragged about it for days. OK, years.

When I’m on the road, on big scary highways, I panic when tractor trailers sandwich me. I panic when their large bulk forces my tiny car to sway and rock. But as I pass them, I look up into their window and with skilled determination I pull down on m invisible chain and then smile and squeal when they reward me with an air horn symphony.

I like flirting them when I’m in the passenger seat. It’s the creamy center of road trips. You know who doesn’t like it when I flirt with truckers? Henry. Oh Lord, it pisses him off. He wised up after our first road trip and now tries to maintain a constant spot in the far right lane, so the only thing for me to flash my boobs at is the guard rail. Not that I partake in much flashing now that I have that kid. That might be kind of sick. Maybe in France it would be OK.

My friend Sergio once told me that if you treat truckers with respect, maybe you might let them slide on over into your lane when all the other four-wheelers are pointedly ignoring the turn signal, then that trucker will have your back and he might radio ahead to his other trucker friends sharing your stretch of the big road. They might just sandwich you when the bears are around. This has happened to me before, I’ve been taken under the wings of a convoy and it’s a proud feeling. Me, my Eagle Talon, and a fleet of 18-wheelers. Almost makes me want to bite off a hunk of jerky just thinking about it.

When we’re on our way to Columbus tomorrow, I’ll wave to all of the truckers, maybe offer them warm compresses at the Pickle Park[1], and then I’ll salute my friend Renegade, who just now told me that it’s OK that I don’t reply him to him right away, to take my time and that he’ll be there. Just like a true trucker.

[1]: Pickle Park: – an interstate rest area frequented by prostitutes, for those not up with the trucker lexicon.

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Jan 272008
 

 

IMG00039

 

On the way to Image Box Studios for the pinhole camera making class, Janna swept away some of the cobwebs in her mind, stepped over some discarded drug needles littering her memory, and recounted a time in fourth grade when her class got to make their own pinhole cameras.

"And then Melissa Urbanek got really pissed off at me because my foot ended up being in her picture, so the teacher had to give her a new piece of film."

Why did this story not shock me?

We were the first people to arrive at the gallery, another thing that did not shock me. I have an inherent need to be early. While photographer Brian Krummel, his wife, and the gallery owner pushed tables together and slapped a CD in the stereo, I made idle conversation with the guy who arrived shortly after us. His name was Luis, he appeared to be in his twenties, and was eager to get started. Eager, but not over-the-top. I liked him.

Janna stood in the corner blowing her nose.

The gallery owner told us to sign in, pay and take a name tag. When I took a seat next to Luis, I noticed that there was a glaring absence of a sticky name-informant on his sweater. I asked him, Aren’t we supposed to wear a name tag, or is this to put on our camera? He shrugged so I tore my tag off my shirt and let it hang pathetically off my finger tip. Name tags are gay if you’re the only one wearing it. Janna put hers on, but that did about as much to temper my insecurities as seating me next to a spot light and airing my discomfort in HD.

More people arrived after we had signed in and paid. Basically, the rest of the class consisted of a group of older yuppie-ish types who were all friends and spoke loudly of people who weren’t there ("Martin is the funniest guy ever") and essentially dominated the room’s energy. A quiet couple sat across from Janna. I liked them because they had inoffensive personalities, gentle voices, and basically didn’t do anything stupid to make me hate them. Across from me was Craig.

Oh, Craig. He was in his forties, had a bald head and rectangular-framed glasses. He wore a fitted black shirt and his name tag clung mischievously to his left shoulder. His left broad shoulder. His left masculine broad shoulder.

It was then that I confidently slapped the name tag back across my breast. Turning to Luis, I whispered that he better go back and get his name tag after all. And so he did. I took care of Luis. I had big plans to make him the Ricky to my Angela Chase. Being seated at the end of the table made it difficult for him to procure certain tools that we needed, like hammers, magnifying glasses, and the bowl of sugar for our complimentary coffee, served in tiny Styrofoam cups. The kind of cups they give you at car dealerships, like that’s supposed to make you feel better for forking over a down payment of five grand, a down payment that involved cashing in a CD that you’ve been hoarding for years at the bank. Oh thanks! Thanks for giving me a cup that I can’t even keep as a souvenir. Thanks!

I like Styrofoam cups better than Dixie Cups though. I don’t know why. Maybe because I associate Dixie Cups with urine samples.

There was a brief moment when my world stopped spinning and I thought that I had fucked up my tin. I showed it to Brian, fully anxious and expecting him to kick me out. Brian soothed my panic by slapping a piece of electrical tape over a tiny hole I had accidentally made in one side of my tin. "So, I don’t fail?" I asked, and Craig laughed heartily across the table. Then he held out his roll of electrical tape for me to cut for him, a service I was happy to fulfill. I started to forget about Luis, because I’m a fickle woman.

In the darkroom — really just the tiny gallery bathroom with a red light and a shut door — Brian had groups of four come in to load the b&w photo paper into their newly transformed red tins. In the darkroom, Craig laughed at one of my quips and touched my arm. He said "Nice." A lot. Like it was his catch phrase. I could have stood there all day, in that tiny bathroom darkroom, having him touch my arm and saying Nice! Maybe a generous handful of jelly beans would be nice, too.

Every one got to take two photos with their pinholes. Janna and I nearly came to blows over rights to photograph a wooden cow propped up in someone’s front yard, a short walk down the block from the gallery. I won, so Janna settled for a different angle of the house. An old black man ambled past. He looked at our tins. He stopped. He looked at me expectantly.

I explained what we were doing.

"That? THAT is a CAMERA?" He shook his head as though to say, "What they won’t think of." Instead of being a smarty pants and reminding him that pinholes are like, ancient, I laughed and said, "Oh I know, right?" He wished us both blessed days, and I was kind of mad, because Janna didn’t even bother to say hello to him, so why would he wish that she has a blessed day? Janna is clearly too good to speak to old black men. Just wait until the day she decides she wants one of them to play the harmonica at her wedding. She’ll get hers.

Everyone’s first attempts were drastically under-exposed so we set off to re-take the shots. While I was waiting for Luis to finish (because we were clearly born to be each other’s besties, we had both chosen the same spot to photograph, unbeknownst to each other), I stumbled upon Craig’s name tag, slightly curled and orphaned on the sidewalk. I somberly took a picture of it with my phone. Janna didn’t seem to give a shit. Maybe if it belonged to the love of HER life, she’d have fashioned a coffin for it out of a cigar box and given it a proper burial.

We were supposed to time our shot for one minute this time. I volunteered the services of my phone’s clock, but then quickly became distracted and immersed in an urgent texting storm with my friend Amelia. Three minutes later, I thought to myself, "Now, wasn’t I supposed to be doing something? Oh. Shit." But my flightiness was rewarded in this case, because when we entered the gallery, several people emerged from the darkroom and said, "A minute wasn’t long enough either."

My first shot came out pretty good.

cow

Janna’s did not. Her entire block of photo paper was white except for a small triangular spot of image in the center. She seemed dismayed, but undeterred since we had a second shot to do. I chose a chain-link fence that had eerie parade of stuffed animals strung along it. The stuffed animals were gray and tattered and I imagined they reeked like mold on a homeless person’s flannel shirt and car exhaust.

dolls

Janna’s second attempt provided the same results. She was really upset so I did what any good friend should: I made fun of her mercilessly.

If all cameras were pinholes, what would the paparazzi do?

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