Apr 012008
 

Xiu Xiu was playing at the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky on Saturday. Doors opened at 9:00 and even though it’s only about a thirty minute drive from Christina’s house, she insisted on leaving early; so early that we wound up arriving at 6:30pm. Our time-killing options consisted of:

  • walking aimlessly around Newport on the Levy with all the trendy lacquered-nail fuckers

  • extracting teeth to finance the overpriced beverages at the piano bar (featuring the most annoying female lounge singer I’ve heard this side of Jessica Simpson — I know this because her pulverized rearrangement of "Hotel California" polluted the sidewalk through speakers)

  • perusing Claire’s Boutique for pink clip-on hair extensions
  • jumping off one of the bevy of bridges.

My tooth was bugging me from my recent crown procedure, and I implored Christina  to get me drunk. It was the only way I was going to survive the night. "Surely there’s some sleazy dive bars around the corner?" I asked out loud. The next thing I knew, Christina was asking one of the valets, "Hey, you know of any sleazy bars around here? We don’t want to drink anywhere inside there," she said, cocking her head toward the carnival of flashing neon lights and people with fake laughs. Immediately he suggests somewhere inside the mall, the place she emphatically said we didn’t want to go. A lot of the bars there were chains that we have in Pittsburgh too. It’s like going on vacation and eating at Denny’s. I wanted to kickback in a local bar. Maybe take in a knife fight or two.

I stepped up and explained this to the valet. He gave us directions to a street a few blocks away and told us there was a "real dive bar that just opened up on the corner down there." When we walked away, I hit her.

"What’d you have to go and say ‘sleazy’ for?" I yelled.

"Well, that’s what you said!" she retorted, all up in arms. She’s all up in them arms a lot.

Apparently the valet’s definition of "sleazy" is: brand new sports bar with an old-fashioned wooden facade, brass door handles, and men in white collared shirts limp-wristing their chicken wings while watching the basketball game. Survey says they had gold money clips, too.

Christina was about to walk in but I was all, "Don’t be stupid. That place already has me yawning." We kept walking. And by walking, I mean jay-walking. Christina was so mad at me for it, but let me tell you something, this bitch don’t wait for no light to change, okay? 

A homeless man with frizzy gray hair and a mouth full of rot stopped us and asked for spare change. I wanted to tell him to not be so cliché, ask for something different like a bottle of benzos or Soap Opera Digest, but instead I gave him the cliché answer of "Sorry, no cash" complete with the obligatory downward tug of the mouth corners. After we crossed the street, I looked over my shoulder and saw that he had stopped a few feet away on t he sidewalk and was presently boring holes through our non-homeless skulls with his vacant eyes.

"He’s staring at us," I hissed at Christina.

"Well, no shit. His friend in Pittsburgh told him you give homeless people twenty dollar bills."

Just then, the flickering of a neon light captured my attention. 

"That’s it, that’s the place where we’re getting drunk." I pointed across the street to a shabby bar called Brass Lounge.  

I especially liked the twinkling gold star that looked out of place without a Christmas tree lodged up its ass and the neon pink animal of an indistinguishable species. Oh, and also the cocktail with floaters in it really made me lick my lips.

Christina looked unsure, but followed me, for I am her shepherd. My hand was on the door knob, I was about to tug it open, but I caught a glimpse of the gigantic sign in the window that said DANCERS WANTED. I took one big step backward and looked up at the front of the building, where it said "Girls girls girls" along the bottom in a cute little train of blue neon.

Now, I have no qualms about slapping down bills in a strip club, but something told me that this was not the establishment I wanted to be entering that night. And that the dancers were probably the human equivalent to a stable of horses that needed to be put down. I was afraid that if we walked in, we might not be walking back out in time to make the show. And not because we’d be having so much fun.

We may have been able to catch a knife fight in there though, and undoubtedly glimpsed various incarnations of Henry, leaning forward with wagging tongues and jostling beer bellies.

Next to the Brass Lounge was a dancer’s apparel store. The mannequin in the window modeled a delicate Y-shaped band of spandex  which strategically crossed over the nipples and crotch. It was in the most gentle hue of violet a stripper ever did wear.

We crossed back to the side of the street where flesh wasn’t being flashed and came close to colliding with two older men who were about to walk into Huddle’s Cafe. The older of the two wore a billowing flannel shirt and seemed like he would be at home on the floor of a garage with a car jacked up above his body. He was laughing loudly at the exchange he just had with his friend and, noticing us on the sidewalk, shared with us why he was laughing, which wasn’t funny enough for me to remember, but we politely laughed along with him and then he gallantly held the door to the bar open for us. Christina whispered, "When we’re together, everyone is so nice to us" and I agreed, unaware that she was jinxing us for later, when people around us would morph into jiggling bags of douche syrup.

I think at first he had hope, but then he probably thought we were lesbians (which is 50% true, in our case), so he and his buddy left almost as soon as they sat down, to the dismay of the bartenders.

Huddle’s Cafe was clean, dark, and had the requisite sad guy sitting alone at the bar with his heavy head hung over a bottle of beer. Aside from the two female bartenders, the joint was deserted. Christina and I made ourselves at home, taking up enough space along the bar for four people. I have a lot of stuff that I like to set out in front of me. Like my phone, my camera, makeup, prosthetic phelange. My jacket got slung across the stool next to me and my brick of cocaine didn’t drop out of the pocket, which is a miracle.

If I lived in Newport, I would definitely be a regular. The younger of the two bartenders was easy on the eyes (kind of stupid though), the jukebox had an amazing selection (not so amazing that it would include Xiu Xiu, though), there was a pool table in the back, and the bathroom had vanilla brown sugar hand soap.

We killed the next hour and a half knocking back amaretto sours (OK, that was just me), having jukebox wars with some stodgy middle aged man sitting on the other side of the bar, spilling drinks (OK, that was just me), pretending to care when the bartender talked shit on the owner, and talking about world issues (as long as those issues somehow involved me, I mean).

I was kind of drunk and it was getting close to eight o’clock, so Christina tipped the bartender a hundred million dollars for having a nice rack, and we split. I felt like peeing in the corner first, to stake my claim; maybe lacerate Christina’s arm and use her tawdry blood to scrawl "ERIN WUZ HIZERE" on the wall. I miss that place now.

I know, I know — you’d think I’d never been to a bar before.

Outside the bar, I ducked in between two buildings in order to take a picture of the sky, which looked especially moody and foreboding behind the a-framed roof of an American Legion building. A Mexican man walked by and asked what we were doing. I started to panic, maybe the cops were cracking down on camera-usage in alleyways, until I realized that he was smiling. I told him I was taking a picture of the sky, to which he laughingly responded, "Oh, I thought maybe there was a dead body back there!"

And we all laughed. Then I was sad that there wasn’t really a dead body, because that would have been way better than a stupid sky at twilight.

Mar 252008
 

When I left my job Thursday night (technically Friday morning), my gas light flickered on. I don’t pass any gas stations on the usual route I take home, so I made a right, hoping it was the correct one since I couldn’t see what I was doing. (I totally should not have been driving without some kind of seeing aid.)

I misgauged my location and while the road I chose led me to the road I wanted, it spilled me out right in front of a section that was blocked off for construction. Unable to make the left, I was forced to turn right, which brought me closer to the seedier parts of town. I’m only on this particular road in the daylight, so I was struggling to see where I was going, and wasn’t even sure if any gas stations were nearby. Through my squinting, I made out the red and yellow blur of a Shell sign, so I pulled in with relief.

Digging through my wallet, I discovered that Henry never returned my credit card (he used it to go grocery shopping, since I always have more money than him because I’m the best) so I had to use the one for our joint account. While I was fumbling to key in the PIN at the pump, an older black man shuffled through the deserted (and very, very dark) lot toward me.

"’Scuse me, miss? I ain’t mean you no harm, but I was wondering….if you could let me pump your gas for you, maybe give me a few dollars in return? I’m homeless, see — just temporarily! I don’t like to be begging so I try to do things to earn the money, see? I haven’t eaten in about two days."

He kept talking, and I was only partially listening because I was too busy scanning his person for the outline of a gun. He had his hands where I could see them, and we locked eyes for a few seconds. Something told me not to be scared.

"I can’t see," I said stupidly, as the credit card terminal on the gas pump was beeping to alert the entire area that I was too retarded to enter my PIN properly.

"You ain’t pushing the button hard enough," the man said, pressing down hard on the "enter" button with the pad of one bony finger, turning his flesh white around the nail. It accepted my PIN this time and he looked at me, waiting for my answer.

I sighed and handed him the nozzle. "I don’t have cash on me," I started, but I felt the tiniest pang of guilt watching him stand there, feeding my car full of fuel, "so let me go inside and find the ATM," I mumbled. I really kind of just wanted to go home. Now I was stuck getting gas for the car and helping a person in need: two of my least favorite things.

The gas station doors were locked because it’s situated so close to the heart of the ghetto. I walked up to the window, where a large and very angry-looking black man was seated behind a sign that instructed: Cash Transactions Only. Below it was a bank teller-type drawer. It reminded me of the  time Janna had to make an after-hours bread transaction through the steel drawer of another poorly-located gas station because I was majorly drunk and needed spongey carbs to soak up the stomach acid.

I pressed my face close to the speaker embedded in the bullet-proof window and begged to be allowed inside to use the ATM. The clerk gave me an annoyed glance and then shook his head disinterestedly. "If I buy something, can I have cash back?" I asked, thinking that I could use this as a really legitimate excuse to buy a pack of Camels. Possibly two. I was aware of the slight whine in my voice.

In a perfect world, he’d have jumped up, clapped heartily, and squealed, "Why sure, little white girl in the faux-fur collar! Come right on in! You own the world!" Instead, he didn’t even bother to look at me this time, giving me a second head shake, slow and deliberate.

I sighed haughtily and stomped back to the car.

"I stopped when it got to $10, just like you said, ma’am!" The homeless man was standing with his hands stuffed into his pockets, shoulders hunched against the wind. He looked like he wanted praise.

"Look, I’m sorry but the store is locked for the night so I can’t get any cash." We stood facing each other awkwardly, and I watched as his face fell. I deliberated for a second before sighing and asking, "What’s your name?"

He stood up straight and introduced himself as Mel. He whipped out his thin wallet and flipped it open, exposing his ID to corroborate his story.

"Mel, get in the car. I’ll drive you to Ritter’s, there’s an ATM there." Ritter’s is a diner a few blocks away, in a safer, more populated, area of town. They have good fried green tomatoes. I mean, as good as you’re going to get this far north.

Mel took my hand, asked my name, and thanked me. A brief flash of being filleted with Mel’s blood-crusted switchblade whirred past my eyes, but I shook it off.

I know, REALLY BAD IDEA. What person in their right mind lets a pseudo-homeless man in the hood, late at night, get in their car? Not that I’m in my right mind, but even I should have known better, and I guess I did, but there was something telling me it was okay. A vibe or something, I don’t fucking know. My paranoia works in mysterious circles: It’s broad daylight in a park full of laughing children, shiny balloons and Jesus feeding ducks and I’m cowering behind a bench, anticipating a drive-by. Midnight in the ‘hood with a strange homeless man in my car and I’m fine, thinking about grilled cheese sandwiches with pickles on the side, just fine.

Mel acted as my eyes on the short trip down to Ritters. "Oh Miss Erin, watch that car parked on the side of the road," he’d warn. "No, it’s this next block up here, Miss Erin," he’d correct. Mel was probably more intimidated of me and my (lack of) eye sight than I was of having a strange man in my passenger seat. Interspersed between Mel’s driving instructions, I learned that he has a bullet lodged in his head and one in his back, and that he lost his mother and two sisters a year ago. He has three kids: the oldest is twenty-three and the youngest is seven.

Inside Ritter’s, I used Henry’s credit card once again to withdraw money. I stood there at the front of the restaurant, holding the bill in my hand, contemplating asking the cashier to break it into smaller bills for me. "No, it’s Easter," I said to myself. I took the money outside and stuffed it in Mel’s hand.

"Oh Miss Erin," he whispered and shook his head. He started to say it was too much but I pushed his hand back into his side.

"It’s OK. You need to eat. It’s only money." I was shocking myself. I started to wonder where this uncharacteristic charity act was coming from.

We stood around under the front light of Ritter’s for a few more minutes, talking about our kids and life and suddenly I wasn’t in such of a big hurry to get home.

Because I knew I’d have a lot of ‘splaining to do.

Mel asked me  to keep him in mind if I needed yard work done or my basement cleaned (I later announced excitedly to Janna that I was going to buy him) and then he let me take his picture in the dim light. After I allowed to give me a bear hug, I continued on my way home.

It was a drive full of nervousness and trepidation.

All the lights were on when I got home and Henry was dressed for work (he usually leaves a little after I get home, around 1AM or so). I always come straight home from work, so I’m sure he thought I was sucking dudes off in an alleyway.

It probably didn’t help that I was vomiting nervous giggles all up in his grill as soon as I walked through the door.

"What did you do?" he asked, the underneath of his eyes creased with concern.

I rummaged through my purse, keeping my face hidden behind a wall of hair. "Henry, don’t be mad," I urged through taut laughter. "I’m just going to write you out a check—-"

"WHAT DID YOU DO?" he asked again, sounding quite alarmed.

I couldn’t stop laughing. I tried to stall as long as I could, but he eventually made me cry uncle, just with his eyes alone.

So I told him the story. He sighed a lot throughout my tale. Sometimes he closed his eyes to keep the fear from showing. Occasionally he shook his head in horror.  "And so what it all means is, I’m a good samaritan," I finished.

"No, you’re a fucking idiot. Why would you let some homeless guy in the car? AT NIGHT? AND IN THAT AREA?" He grabbed the check off me and shoved it in his pocket.

"So…you’re not mad that I gave him money?" I asked slowly, confused yet relieved.

"No. Just don’t let strangers get in the car. You know better."

Do I? It was a real good father-daughter talk. If only we had been sitting atop a Laura Ashley comforter and I was hugging a teddy bear, it could have been a great public service announcement.

"But you have to admit I was doing really good. I haven’t done something this stupid in a very long time," I said.

He was still mumbling about me being an idiot as he walked out the door for work. It could have been worse. I mean, I could have brought Mel home with me.

[Ed.Note: I know I’m a stupid asshole and highly reckless. You don’t need to tell me. I will try not to do it again.]

Mar 182008
 

“Your prescription hasn’t changed,” my eye doctor said, pushing the butterfly-shaped apparatus away from my face. I started to relax in the orange leather seat, thinking that I would get to leave sooner than I imagined.

He pulled out a pen light and some sort of magnifying glass and after blinding me while forcing me to stare at his ear, he started pressing down on my closed lids.

“Have you been in a car accident recently?” The question made me pause; I answered no.

“Any sort of trauma? Been hit with a basketball?” he suggested. I said no to both, but started wondering what Henry does to me in my sleep that would change the shape of my eye balls. Am I going to lose them now?

Then my doctor dropped the false concern from his voice, adopting instead a tone of mild irritation. “Oh never mind, it’s because you wear your contacts too much.” He wheeled his seat back behind his desk and began scribbling in my chart, shaking his head at my irresponsibility. He told me that my over-used contacts have caused an allergic reaction to my upper eye ball area in both eyes. The name he gave it sounds like an STD gone optical. The good news is that my medical insurance will cover it, because what was originally just a routine exam (back when the sun still shone and birds chirped my name) was now an appointment to treat a medical condition.

“I’m going to prescribe you some eye drops. Use it for ten days, then I’ll see you again to check the progress. Don’t wear any contacts for the next ten days! I’m serious. I’ll know if you’ve been wearing them.”

I’m certain this was the point during the exam where I gulped. I’d have rather been getting a pap smear right then.

The conflict lies in the fact that I don’t have any glasses. I broke my last pair in an Incredible Hulkulean fit of rage, instigated by my extreme agitation of viewing the world through lenses. But I couldn’t tell my doctor this because five breaths ago I was swearing that I alternate wearing contacts with wearing my glasses.

I’m sure he could smell the stench of bullshit seeping through my cheese-clothed lie. He’s an eye doctor, for Christ’s sake. But I’m stubborn, so I left his office armed with a prescription and no eye sight. I tripped a few times on my walk home, flopped down on the couch and proceeded to panic.

How would I drive to work? How would I see who’s walking past my area? How would I spy on the creepy cleaning guy? Oh yeah, and how would I work?

I cried to Henry about it, but received no consoling. “That’s what you get. You idiot. Just go back and tell them you need to order a pair of glasses.”

“No, I don’t want to pay for them! I just spent $150 on a contact supply,” I whined.

I slapped my old contacts in right before I left for work, so that I could at least see while driving. Except that the lenses have grown ornery in their old, abused age, and refuse to stay suctioned to the curve of my eye. I blink and they ride up, like my eyes are trying to reject them. Even my EYES aren’t as retarded as me. I had to drive with my head tilted back, peering down my nose. Christina, trying to find the bright side, pointed out that at least I’ve had a lot of practice with looking down my nose.

Work was long and arduous. I took my contacts out as soon as I got there, so I had to pull my monitor as far out as possible, without knocking the keyboard off the edge. I  couldn’t slouch in my seat like usual or I would be too far away to see the screen through my furious squints.

The worst part of the night was when I tried to pay my coffee bill. The lady in charge of the coffee club was gone for the day, so I was instructed to give it to her friend Sharon. I’d never been to see Sharon before, but the coffee lady told me in an email that Sharon sits near her.

I did my best to walk over to their area of the building without reaching with my arms, an inherent reflex when vision becomes obstructed, or so I’m learning. Convinced that Sharon had an office and not a cubicle, I began pressing my nose up to the first several closed doors I came upon, squinting to see the names. The third or fourth door (blindness renders me dyscalculate, apparently) was open. I know this because a bright haze emanated from within, like I had finally reached Heaven’s gates.

I could detect a blurry outline of a human situated behind what I assumed was a desk. “Sharon?” I called out hesitantly. I jumped a little at the sound of my voice, which I had raised the volume on to compensate for my lack of sight, I suppose.

“No, this isn’t Sharon’s office,” answered the voice of a man. I squinted and brought my hand above my brow, like I was trying to see into the sun. This did nothing to sharpen the man’s outline. I know, I was surprised, too.

He tried to point me in the direction of Sharon. “No, the other way,” he said, as I turned to leave. I couldn’t see where he was pointing, so I was trying to fake it. He had to correct me THREE TIMES before I finally pivoted to the right and walked right into Sharon’s cube. He probably thought I was autistic.

On my way back to my desk, I took comfort in the fact that I didn’t even know who I was acting like an asshole in front of, so when I get my sight back, I won’t even know to be embarrassed if I ever encounter him again.

Until I inadvertently found out from my friend Jenn, who works during the day, that this guy in her department just got his seat changed. His name is David and I had a brief crush on him during our Christmas party, wherein I spent a good twenty minutes taking clandestine pictures of him sitting alone and brooding. After she mentioned that, it occurred to me that the man in the office sounded like him. I tried to imagine David with a blurred face. Later, when all the dayshift people were gone, I groped my way back to that office, stood with my nose an inch from the door, and read a line of fuzzy letters that spelled out “David [Hopefully-Erin’s-Future-Surname-But-Certainly-Not-Now].”

Great.

Today, I had planned to go to Goodwill and see if maybe they have a box of unwanted eyeglasses that I can pick through, maybe find a nice old man pair or fabulously over-sized owl-frames, in the style of Brett Somers. But Henry argued that Goodwill doesn’t just collect a box of prescription glasses to re-sell. “They probably send them to old people homes,” he reasoned. But how will the poor people see?

“Here’s a thought,” Henry posed over the phone this morning. “Why don’t you just call your fucking eye doctor and tell them that you can’t fucking see?”

“Because I don’t want them to know I lied! Ooh, unless! What if I call them and say that I left my glasses on the bus yesterday and I need an emergency pair?”

“Or, why don’t you just tell them you’re a re-re who has never had glasses.” When he came home from work, I had the bean bag pulled two feet from the TV and I was lurched forward, squinting to make out the undulating forms of Danity Kane. “Is this where the blind people sit?” he asked, with a roll of his eyes.

Once I’ve woven a tangled web, the lies and deception just get deeper and deeper; there’s no turning back now. And it’s stupid things I lie about too. I mean look, I’ve been writing on the Internet since 2001. You would think that if I was so into knitting ridiculous afghans of aspersion with a distorted reality fringe, I would do a better job constructing a polished image of myself. Like, maybe I would lie and say that I went to an Ivy League, perhaps Oxford, Photoshop my pictures and pretend to be in porn. But no, instead I’m like, “Hey, I’m a fatso! And a high school drop out! I’m not even awesome enough to have a hot boyfriend!”

But glasses I’ll lie about.

Henry sad he might have his old glasses, a pair of 1980’s aviators. I really hope he finds them, because I bet they’d cover at least half of my face. Until then, Christina is sending me her glasses.

I’m starting to lose sight (ha-ha) of my initial point. Why am I doing this again? Oh right, because I’m an idiot.

Mar 052008
 

The first time I was there was the summer of 2000.

“There’s this Quaker cemetery out in Perryopolis. Supposed to be haunted or some shit. We should go.” It was one of those glimmering moments of spontaneity that, on a boring summer’s night, sounded a lot more interesting that the usual routine of getting drunk on my porch. I was a little wary that the person hatching this plan was my friend Justin, who had a bad track record of insisting he knew the exact coordinates of various haunted hot spots, and then like a bad repeating record, we’d inevitably wind up lost  with the gas tank on E and a few empty bags of Corn Nuts.

Our friend Keri wanted to accompany us, so I felt a little better because she was always the responsible one. If you were going to get lost, break down, get a condom lodged inside of you, Keri was the girl you’d want with you. She also didn’t scare easily, so I quietly planned to wedge myself between the two of them once (if) we arrived.

Perryopolis is around 30 miles south of Pittsburgh, but the trip didn’t take long in my Eagle Talon, considering my propensity for driving it like a dragster. As we approached the town of Perryopolis, I silently hoped that we would be unable to find the cemetery in the dark, of that it didn’t exist, or that the Earth opened up to engulf it every night after midnight. Maybe there would be a fence too dangerous to scale, Hounds of Hell snarling and tied to posts at the entrance, an after hours admission fee implemented by Satan.

The area was rural. We coasted past a few farms and even fewer houses. The uneven asphalt was littered with loose pebbles and sticks, which  clinked and snapped under the tires. The streetlights did little to alleviate my uneasiness. Unfortunately, Justin must have polished his navigational bearings, because after having me make a few turns, he told me to pull over.

“This is it,” he said, leaning in between the front seats and looking out my window. We kind of just sat there, real still, not speaking, until Keri finally went for the door handle. We all filed out and crossed the dark, quiet street. It was too dark to see the cemetery from where we stood, and after hesitating to see who would step up to lead us, we finally took the plunge in tandem and began climbing the slight hill before us.

Halfway up, we could make out a wrought iron fence, the kind you would expect to wreathe an old, small town cemetery. My eyes searched for the tombstones, the meat of the graveyard. That’s when I saw it, my first glimpse of the old stone house in the middle of the small plot of land. Suddenly, it wasn’t what lay beneath the ground that frightened me.

“I don’t like the looks of that place,” I whispered hoarsely to Keri and Justin.

“What the fuck is it, a church?” Justin asked no one in particular, squinting his eyes to adjust to the darkness.

“I’m not climbing no fucking fence,” Keri spat, arms crossed. She was always the kill joy of the group. Me, I’d go along with just about anything, no matter how terrified I was, mainly because my adrenaline would overtake my common sense every single time. But Keri, she’d get so far and then stop. Or conveniently conjure up a head ache. That girl has headaches more often than Seattle has rain.

Just then, the dull roar of an engine resounded from further down the road. We all turned to look. Headlights eventually appeared over the crest in the curving road, and the car began to decelerate. We continued to watch as it approached the base of the hill and slowed to a complete stop several yards away from my car, parked along the shoulder.

“Is it a cop?” Keri whispered.

The driver flashed the head lights. We were stapled to the soft ground under our feet. The driver blew the horn. We jumped. The driver laid on the horn, sending an atmosphere-rippling siren through the once-quiet night. All three of us screamed and turned to run back to my car. We shoved each other ruthlessly, none of us daring to be in the back.

My car was parked directly across the base of the hill. The rogue car still idled in the same position a few yards away on the opposite side of the road, continuing to blare the chilling horn. We made it to my car, slamming into the side of it. I fumbled for my keys. I dropped them on the road as I tried frantically to sort through the menagerie of plush over-sized key chains. Keri and Justin were swearing and screaming at me. I was crying.

The bully car continued to intimidate us with the horn-blaring while I unlocked my door and reached across the inside to unlock the passenger door. Keri and Justin both tried to get in my uterus-sized two-door Talon at once, prolonging their success. Once they were in, I gunned it, not even bothering to steal a look at the driver of the opposing car as we squealed past it.

We drove in silence until the poorly-lit country roads spilled us out onto the highway where we took refuge among the traffic.

Only then did anyone dare speak.

“I don’t know what you guys were so scared for. It was probably just some teenager having some fun, trying to scare us,” Justin said, leaning back with his fingers laced behind his head.

*****

The weather was unseasonably spring-like on Sunday, so Henry, Chooch and I piled into the car and drove south to take some pictures and enjoy the rare opportunity to drive with the windows down. Our plan was to go out to Uniontown, a small town at the base of the mountains, and get some nice country photographs.

We took Rt. 51, which leads straight from Pittsburgh to Uniontown. It also passes through Perryopolis on the way.

“Hey, there’s this old Quaker Cemetery out here. We should try to find it,” I casually suggested, recognizing that the right hand turn into farm country was coming up. What better way to spend a beautiful Sunday with the kid and manservant? Field trip  the haunted cemetery! C’mon boy, let’s get our desecratin’ on, I should have hollered to Chooch.

Henry found it without mishap (evidently the road it’s on is called Quaker Cemetery Road, so Henry figured it was a safe bet we were on the right road). When I reached the crest of the small hill, I spotted the stone house with it’s corrugated tin roof, ominously gaping front door and windows that stared out like empty eye sockets.

I wasn’t scared this time, finding bravery in the sunlight, and I marched right through the archway and started taking pictures. Probably, if I was someone other than myself, the first thing I’d do, I’d go straight inside that stone shack and start poking around. But I was cautious. I let Henry go inside first while I admired the various hues of beer bottle shards as they sparkled in the sun. The shards wrapped around the front of the house, like a moat in front of an alcoholic’s castle. I was sad that no one ever invites me to party in creepy cemetery houses.

Henry went inside first, getting some digital shots of the interior. I asked him if he felt scared when he was in there and he gave me that “don’t be an asshole” sneer. Still, I lingered near the door while Henry and Chooch retreated somewhere in the back, behind the house. I thought I heard shuffling coming from inside the house, but I shook the idea out of my mind and went in.

The inside was sheltered by a roof made up of thin wooden slats. It looked unstable, like I could be buried under it at any given moment. The walls were mostly blue and covered in graffiti. I tried to read it all, as much as I could before my bravery reserve was drained, but there was nothing very interesting. No Hail Satans or Human Sacrifice FTW!s to be found; just an abundance of generic “_____ was here”s and ambiguous initials.

Each end of the room had a fireplace. Henry said later that he had wanted to get all up in it and see what was going on in the chimney’s guts, but he never said why he didn’t follow through. Because he was scared, that’s why. I can only imagine how much clenching he had to do to keep from shitting his pants when he was in there alone.

Still afraid of the being impaled by a collapsing slat of wood, I started to walk out. Henry completely doesn’t believe me, and probably no one else will either, but as I started to step through the doorway, I heard a chorus of whispering coming from \the left corner of the room. I SWEAR TO GOD. I swore to God when I was telling Henry about it too and he was like, “You can’t swear to something you don’t believe in” so I changed my pledge of honesty to Satan instead and Henry started in on that bullshit about how you can’t believe in one and not the other and I was like, “Shut up, stop acting like you’re religious” and he said if there was no God and just Satan, then the world would be way worse than it is now and I said, “No, Satan’s just lazy is all” and that’s about as deep as the two of us get into theological debates. Our next one is scheduled for 2030. As if Henry will still be living then.

After the whole whispering episode, I was pretty much in a huge hurry to leave. If you buy into legends and ghost stories, it’s said that the meeting house was where witches were taken to be killed. I really hope the whispering I heard belonged to Glinda.

Later that day, I was reading a website about the cemetery and it says, “There are also stories of certain graves being cursed, meaning that if you stand at them, or read the writing on the head stone, you could have bad luck or die.”

Click for more

Awesome. Nice knowing you, Chooch.

Feb 252008
 

There’s something you need to know about me: I’m still the fifteen-year-old girl who turns to music when a boy breaks her heart. I’m still the sixteen-year-old girl who locks herself in her room and blares the stereo after fighting with her parents. I’m still the nineteen-year-old who sobs into cherry wine while listening to The Cure. I’m still the seventeen-year-old girl who thinks every emo song was written for her.

I’m the twenty-eight-year-old girl who gets in a fight with Henry and runs off to the cemetery to scream along to the lyrics that your little brothers and sisters are cutting themselves to.

Not too long ago, someone asked, "Aren’t you a little old to be getting excited about this kind of music?" If I ever stop getting excited about it, stop feeling it in my heart, then I’ll know I’m dead. Exactly what kind of music is someone elderly like me supposed to be listening to, anyway? Should I be donning loafers and sitting back with some John Mayer?

Last summer, when Henry and I were going through a rough patch, Chiodos was there to keep me alive. Their music inspired me to paint again and their lyrics inspired me to keep writing when I really wanted to give up. When I missed their set at Warped Tour, I didn’t care that I was essentially the mama amid a churning sea of other surly fans who missed them due to an unusually early start time.

Yesterday was going to be my first time meeting them. For me, it was worth the three hour drive to Columbus. I wanted to thank them for doing what they do, for making music that means so much to me. But by the time we arrived at Magnolia Thunderpussy for the in-store signing, my heart felt weak and my legs were spaghetti. (Marinara sauce, please.) Very few people were there; I anticipated a line full of unwashed hair and star tattoos serpentining out and around the store, but there were only a handful of messy haired kids loitering quietly among the racks of CDs.

I sat outside for awhile. I was thirty minutes early and Chooch was unable to be contained within the tiny record store. Henry let him play in snow while I tried to make idle chatty with two young people who sat on a retaining wall.  I admitted to being freaked out, hoping to bond with the girl of the pair. She laughed, but it wasn’t the encouraging kind. I think she was suspicious that some old broad was trying to make convo. Later, she asked me if I had come by myself, and I took that as her way of including me. She kind of looked like Rachel Bilson. Then I started thinking about The O.C. and realized, "Holy shit, I really am young……Oh well."

Inside the store, I was mindlessly flipping through used CDs when I looked up and saw three of the band members slipping behind the counter. There was no grand announcement or applause — they managed to slink by unnoticed by most of the kids. A short trucker-capped employee with a voice too husky for a girl came out and determined where the start of the line would be. I had the good fortune of being close by, so only fifteen or so people managed to be ahead of me. Henry and Chooch were still at the front of the store; the growing covey of fans made a barricade that he wasn’t trying to attempt to break through.

I turned around and wheezed, "I think I’m going to die!" to the girl behind me. She laughed. I liked her. She had nice glasses and she let me cut in front of her when I got caught up in the mad scurry to get in line. But I wasn’t kidding — my palms were getting sweaty and I was seeing double.

A trio of tiny girls wearing varying shades of grey and black and olive green huddled in front of me, giggling about what they were going to say to the band. One of the girls never removed her oversized black sunglasses from her pale face. Another had braces. The third looked around and disgustedly observed that there were so many scene kids there. "Oh wait, I am one," she added with a laugh. I wanted to punch her. I wanted to punch her and say that I liked Chiodos more. Then I wanted to steal her purse. Not because I liked it all that much, but because maybe it seemed like the right way to end things.

It was my turn way too quickly. I was barely prepared and my hands shook a little (a lot) as I unrolled my poster and slapped it down on the counter. The first person in line was Derrick, the drummer. He gave me a friendly smile and I felt slightly brave enough to speak. I started to tell him that I had come from Pittsburgh, but the girl in front of me had made it to the end of the line and wanted a picture of all of them. He held up his finger to me and moved in close to the rest of the band. But by the time he turned his attention back to me, I had lost my nerve and started to slide my poster down to the guitarist, Jason. I could have told him that I used a magazine clipping of his eyeball for one of the paintings I made last summer. I could have told him that there used to be a bar outside of Pittsburgh called Chiodos and my mom beat the shit out of the Chiodos daughter because of a guy. I could have told him these things but I didn’t because it probably would have come out sounding like something articulated by Corky.

Henry was standing off to my right, behind a wall of posters. I silently hoped that he wouldn’t embarrass me, because if those guys thought I was old….

Henry chose that moment to release Chooch who in turn came running toward me. Derrick shouted, "Aw, look how cute he is!" When Chooch reached me, I used him to my advantage and picked him up so they knew he was with me; it suddenly didn’t matter that I was "too old" to be there or that I couldn’t find meaningful words to say to them.

The band collectively said things like, "He’s adorable!" and "I like your shirt, little man!" Derrick looked at me and said, "You know, we need a mascot…" Everyone laughed and then he gave Chooch a high five. Even the scene kids in line broke down their steeled pretensions long enough to say "Aw."

Henry doesn’t like Chiodos at all. I mean, he wasn’t glaring at them and flashing Crip signs from behind the protective cover of a rack of Ramones t-shirts — he just doesn’t like their music. I thought that maybe after meeting them he would change his mind. Maybe their boyish charm and ruffled hair would inspire him to give their music another change.

"Do you like them now?" I asked, once we left the record store. (I’m kind of like the Verizon Wireless Guy — I re-ask him with every disc rotation.)

"No! They didn’t do anything but stand there." His standards are too high.

Thank you Chooch, for revitalizing some of my maternal courage and giving me another reason to add to the "no" column of "Was Having a Kid a Mistake?"

Then we went back to the hotel where Henry started snoring and I made him sleep in the car.

Sorry for getting all serious. I promise to resume my regular asshole-y writing style in time for the next entry.

Feb 212008
 

I’ve hit a dilemma for this weekend. We’re supposed to go to Columbus to see a Chiodos in-store appearance. I love Chiodos (apparently because they’re hot and not because they’re good) and they’re probably my favorite band at the mo’. They write the kind of songs that I would write.

If I could write songs.

Which I can’t, in case you were wondering.

But then today on the way to work, I heard a radio ad for World of Wheels which is apparently taking the Convention Center by storm this weekend. I started to tune it out, because car shows are stupid. But then I heard the excited announcer proudly shout that Mater from "Cars" is going to be there. Immediately I start picturing my kid, happier than an orphan being spoon-fed porridge by Santa’s arthritic hand, hugging a real life version of his beloved tow truck.

But Chiodos is more important than making the kid smile, I reminded myself.

I started to tune it out once more, but the announcer came back at me with a secret weapon — Drake Hogestyn, better known as John Black from "Days of Our Lives." HENRY’S FAVORITE SOAP PERSONALITY.

I dialed Henry with the urgency of an ER after a meth lab explosion.

"We have a problem!" I yelled, out of breath from all the excitement.

He loves it when I make calls like that while I’m driving. Loves it.

I quickly told him about the car show, about how Mater is going to be there. "And there’s someone else," I teased. "Someone that you REALLY LIKE."

"Who?" There was trepidation in his voice.

"John Black!"

"Goodbye."

But I think there’s a chance we can do both. I really might die if I don’t get a picture of Henry and John Black. I really might die.

Feb 192008
 

Sunday night, I had this strong desire to read a book. This presented an unfortunate situation, because I didn’t have any unread books here to choose from. The used stores were closed by then, and I didn’t feel like going to some gigantic book Babylon like Borders or Barnes and Noble because I wanted to get in and out and the choices there are entirely too overwhelming.

So I sucked it up and went to Wal-Mart. I know, I know. I hate Wal-Mart. It’s dirty there and bleak and makes me feel like I’m stuck in a state-run institution and I want out out out. But I figured the limited selection would enable me to grab something quickly and bolt.Convenience – that’s how they get you.

Since Henry was with me, we had to stagger down the completely boring computer aisle and then we had to look at lamps and then Chooch saw a large display for Cars magnets so I had to toss Lightning McQueen, Mater and Sally into the cart. You can imagine how disgusted I was since we were supposed to be there for me, to have my needs met. I could have gone off to peruse the books while Henry browsed what’s probably considered fine merchandise by people of his own social tier, but anytime I stray from him, he inaccurately gauges the amount of time I need before meeting up with me, and so I finish up in my aisle while he’s still off looking at butt paste and American flags. Then I go off in a panic-stricken search for him and my palms sweat and I whimper and I wind up tangled in racks of scarves and headbands and Looney Toons-emblazoned oversized sweatshirts and it’s just never a good scene.

Henry was having a troublesome time pushing the cart. "It must be one of the exercise carts," he grunted as he gave it another sharp shove.

"They have those?" I exclaimed.

"Um, no. It was a joke. Re-re." Here I thought Wal-Mart might be getting fun.

Henry stalled the cart in front of a row of magazines and I wandered off to the whole four columns of books. I peeked around the corner, expecting the row of books to continue on the other side, but instead came nose-to-nose with a blinding green St. Patrick’s Day headdress.

I skipped over the romance section and kids section and self-help section and Oprah section and was essentially down to one rack boasting a meager selection of current fiction. Now, aside from Harry Potter, I really haven’t had the chance to read in a very long while. I think the last new book I read was The DaVinci Code, and that was when it very first came out, before all the hype. So that was a long time ago.I used to read all the time when I worked at the meat place, but they were mainly James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell-type thrillers, nothing that really stuck with me so I don’t count those.

I tentatively tucked two books under my arm and held another in my hand, debating which to get. Some of the books I had actually heard of but wasn’t sure if I’d like them based on the cover art, because I’m shallow and I judge books by covers, evidently.

Just as I was about to put two books back and grab The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, a middle-aged woman with black hair and thick-framed glasses shoved her way next to me. Her body touched mine at one point, that’s how close she was standing. I withdrew, but then she spoke.

"This is a great book," she said as her arm jutted out and her finger jabbed the cover of Best Friends. The suddenness of her movement set me off balance and I took a step to the side. "I read it, then read it again immediately. It was great, couldn’t put it down." She slapped it into my hand, which was limply sticking out in front of me.

"Oh," I said with buzzing nerves. "Thanks." I’m always confused when strangers spontaneously speak to me.I learned all about people like her when I was in pre-school. She’s the kind of person who sticks razors in apples and drives rusted vans with tinted windows and has a doll collection that inhabits an entire bedroom in her old dilapidated farmhouse  and their eyes follow you around the room during the day and at night they come alive and fuck you with their porcelain hands. 

"This is great, too," she said. Her voice was full of self-assurance and confidence, as though she was recommending books to her sister or baby’s mama. She continued poking at books on the shelf, telling me what she thought of them, like we were having our own private book club meeting, while I casually skimmed the back of the first book she dumped into my arms. I’m thinking that if I wanted these kinds of suggestions, I’d just ask Eleanore for some good reads. Or Tina, though she strikes me as the type that enjoys Tim O’Brien war novels.

"Let me see what you got there," and I fearfully held out one of my original picks. "Oh, I haven’t read any of his books, but I hear he’s wonderful," she said of Nicholas Sparks. Then she titled her head back and pulled down A Thousand Splendid Suns.

"Have you read this?" I shook my head to the side. "All of my friends loved it. Me? Couldn’t get into it." She slammed it down and bent at the waist to look at the next row. I took that as my cue to leave. And I did, hurriedly, just turned and ran before she could talk again. And I was sure she wasn’t through talking to me. What was the protocol? Should I have said goodbye? Thanks? I didn’t really fucking care; I just wanted to go home before she made our bodies touch again.

At the self-checkout, I decided that the book she handed me looked really gay, so a Wal-Mart employee had to come over and help me since I already rang it up. Then I got home and realized that Nicholas Sparks is that asshole who writes all those sappy love stories like The Notebook. The one I bought is Dear John and I’m nearly done with it and it hasn’t done a damn thing for me. It reminds me of the stupid books my aunt Sharon used to read on the plane every time we’d vacation  together. She’d sit there and cry dramatically and clutch my arm and read passages out loud and I’d tell her to shut up and take a nap.

So please tell me what books you like. I really don’t know much about what’s "good" and "essential" these days — I’ve always been more into music. I’ve been having a hard time going to sleep when I come home from work and I’d rather fill that time with books and not TV. (I’m sure the fact that I chug coffee up until 11:30pm has nothing to do with my inability to sleep.) Tell me what to read; I trust you guys. No romance or science fiction, though. I really like horror and memoirs, and anything that’s unforgettable. Whatever that means.

Feb 012008
 

Messy food. I hate it. I could never even fully embrace sloppy joes when I was growing up, and isn’t that like, the dream meal of youth? Any meal that requires a napkin the size of a tarp spells out tedium to me. Maybe if it were cubed into bite-sized morsels and someone wearing a tophat and tails spoonfed it to me, I’d have applauded happily like the children in the Mamwich commercials. Then we could call them lazy joes.

I hate the sensation of cookie dough between my fingers. “Now’s the fun part, kids! Get your hands in there! Make a mess!” No thanks, please pass the latex gloves. I think maybe this is why I never got into pottery.

Tonight at work, we ordered out. I put a lot of thought into it, as I generally do with everything in life, before settling on a half of an eggplant parmesan hoagie. In past experiences, these hoagies have not been kind to me. You have your rebellious slivers of egglant, slipping off the sandwich and landing in your lap with a greasy plop. You have your strings of melted cheese, pliant and elastic, snapping in half and busting you in the cheek like a broken rubber band. You have globs of marinara that wants desperately to be your new lipstick. You have pieces of bread, paste-like once it mingles with the saliva, becoming caps for your front teeth.

This time, I was prepared. My desk was equipped with a stockpile of napkins; I halved the hoagie; I took slow, small, and careful bites. With luck, I can finish my second half without appearing as though I just ate out a streetwalker with a can of tomato paste plugging her vagina.

Jan 282008
 

“It’s just a little farther, I promise.” My neighbor Christina wears stained clothes and her ratty blond hair hangs in tangled clumps, like twisted tassels sprouting from her scalp. One limp arm swings back, revealing a cigarette clamped between two fingers.

My neighbor Christina is ten years old. I don’t know why I agreed to follow her, but I guess on that spring day, I didn’t have much else going on. Christina’s mother had a protruding jaw line and once enjoyed a wine cooler that she purchased from me with a handful of pennies and nickels. I told her to just take it, she was embarrassing herself. She only knew her daughter’s whereabouts when there were no soap operas to watch and no crack to smoke. That’s being generous, too.

Behind a row of townhouses in the complex we live in, there is a large field. On the right side of it sits the back of the office. That’s where the mailboxes are. None of this seems worthy of being dragged away from the Game Show Network. This was 1998, the year of digital cable.

I look around. I see trees. I see the apartment manager through her office window. I see a guy kicking a soccer ball on the field.

“What am I looking at?” I impatiently ask Christina, as she summons the boy on the field with one hand. He has red hair. He’s wearing Umbros and a hoodie. He’s running up the small crest to the edge of the parking lot where we’re waiting.

“This is the girl I was telling you about, Chad!” Christina proudly announces. I quickly understand where this is going.

He says he’s seen me around. I say I’ve never seen him once. He says he’s just graduated from Penn State and is living here in a furnished town home. “It’s one of the perks of the job I just got,” he explains.

I tell him I’m eighteen and a telemarketer. I tell him I live in a town home furnished by my mother. “Because I’m spoiled,” I explain. We laugh.

He asks me for my number. I tell him I don’t usually like red heads. But I give him my number. He calls me the next day and invites me over for dinner. I say yes, then feel overwhelmed by guilt.

I call my boss at Olan Mills. Gladys. She doubles as the mother hen of us telemarketers.

“It’s not cheating when your boyfriend is a crazy ass who treats you like crap,” Gladys yells into the phone. Someone takes the phone from her and shouts, “Go have dinner with him!”

No one likes my boyfriend Mike. I don’t like my boyfriend Mike. He leaves a very lasting first impression, like the taste that infiltrates your senses when your tongue accidentally drops down during a cavity fill. That bitter, tangy nightmare that makes your uvula curl up into itself and your eyes water. No one knows Chad yet but he’s got a flag-waving, confetti-sprinkling, horn-honking congregation in his corner. And he doesn’t even know it.

I’m not especially dressed up when I cross the parking lot that night. I’m not especially impressed by his corporate-furnished living space; it looks like remnants from the set of Golden Girls; vaguely comforting except for the fact that I don’t know the guy sitting across from me on a couch printed with giant pink water lilies. I’m not even especially impressed by the pasta with the watery sauce that makes a quiet squirt when he drops a heap of it in front of me, or the obligatory salad that accompanies it.

The conversation must not have been very savory either, over top plates of sub-par spaghetti, because all I remember is that he went to school for architecture. He tells me he sees me getting my mail every day and I guess this is  my cue to bat my lashes and blush because, d’awwww — that boy has been paying me some attention, ya’ll. But I just kind of snort instead. His corporate-supplied dining room table is a plain wooden square with matching chairs. The backs of the chairs are made from that annoying basket-like netting, the stuff that’s so thin and flimsy, like those stupid slats of holy willow the churches give out like candy on Palm Sunday, that any regular person could probably punch their fist through it, the stuff that snags your good sweaters and you keep saying you’re going to get new chairs but you end up getting new sweaters instead.

I’m bored by him but not so much that I’d decline his offer of an after-dinner joint. We sit on the Blanche Deveroux-style couch, boxy and stiff, passing a joint between us. “Can I see your iguana?” he asks breathlessly. My marginal buzz convinces me he said “vagina,” and I can’t stop laughing.

My townhouse is full of cushiony furniture, a blue couch with bright pillows and a dining room table with loudly vibrant vinyl diner-style chairs. I’ve not once sat at that table and ate. My townhouse has fluorescent Slinkies dripping off the ceiling. They glow in the dark. My townhouse would make his Golden Girls cower and shade their eyes. I lead him up to the bedroom of my townhouse, a Crayola box regurgitated by Sid and Marty Kroft.

Templeton, my choleric iguana, looks irritable in his tank. “He doesn’t do much,” I say as we sit on the edge of my bed and watch. My bed is made with cherry-hued jersey sheets. I can remember that, but not Chad’s last name. The only thing I remember about Chad is the red hair and phony toothpaste commercial smile.

Chad asks if I want a massage. I say no, but he still tries kneading me between the shoulder blades with his knuckles.

I shrug him off.

Chad asks if he can kiss me. I say no, I think he should leave.

So he leaves and I contently spend the rest of the night watching sitcoms.

With only a parking lot separating us, Chad and I have a few inevitable run-ins. We’re polite. Sometimes we nod to each other from afar and then walk in opposite directions. Eventually, we just never see each other again.

I don’t mind red hair on boys anymore, but I’m not sure that Chad should get credit for that.

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?

Jan 082008
 

Usually, when scouting the field for some good subjects, I employ the ‘shoot & run’ tactic, an effective choice if you don’t mind angry cries and blurred images.

But today, when I was skulking around Brookline in the spring-like weather, taking my new Diana+ camera out for a test drive, I saw a photographic opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up; to walk away would have plagued me with nightmares of regret. A man was leaning against the brick wall of Kribel’s Bakery, smoking a cigarette. He looked middle age with sandy hair — styled loosely in a rockabilly coif — and tattoos and he sported tube socks that would have made Christina swoon; he looked like he was trying to grasp on to the last few strands of punk mentality that life had alotted him, like maybe he had gotten married and his wife was trying to force him to "grow up" but they compromised on a few accessories.  

As I approached, I recognized him as the baker from Kribel’s; I had seen him just a few weeks ago when I stopped in to buy a cake for Kim’s birthday and I remember promptly calling Henry to inform him of my new crush. I knew I needed his picture. But I didn’t hide behind a car or garbage can. I didn’t act like I was trying to "fix" something on the camera as I strolled past, looking skyward and murmuring "Tweedle dee dee." I didn’t pretend like I was taking a picture of the awesome brick wall next to him. I didn’t distract him by baring my breasts.

No, I walked up to him, caught his eye, and asked, "Do you mind if I take a picture of you?" I wanted a real photo of him; not streaks of his blue shirt, or the ground, or the sky, as I tried unsuccesfully to be covert.

His hand froze, cigarette midway to his mouth, and he repeated my request. "Can you take MY picture?" He looked around to see if anyone had heard. I didn’t make up a story about being a photography student. I didn’t pretend to be a tourist. I told the truth.

"I just got this toy camera, and I would really like to take your picture." OK, maybe I slipped in something about a fake portfolio. And that I wanted to fill it with faces of Brookline, a community that’s so dear to my heart. But for the most part, there was no nose-growing. He said yes, and two old men sitting nearby on a bench scurried away into a store, probably afraid they were next on my hit list.

Jesus Christ: enjoying Pixar movies, mending charred bridges, and now asking for permission to photograph someone in lieu of flat out stalking? What’s next — helping old bitches across the street? Don’t worry — I was terrorizing unsuspecting pedestrians with my Holga in another part of Pittsburgh earlier today, so it’s balanced.