Nov 192015
 

Last winter, I suffered through this bizarre episode where everyone around me accidentally had me convinced that Boz Scaggs didn’t exist, but then he started popping everywhere and I felt a small victory. Hats off to the universe for backing me on Boz Scaggs’ existence.

Thank god I often have old people radio stations playing in my bedroom, else I may not have known that Boz was going ON TOUR and that there was a Pittsburgh show! This was less than a week after I got a new succulent and named him Boz Scaggs; not trying to say I’m magic but I’M MAGIC.

I looked up tickets right away and my heart sank a little when I saw that they were pretty expensive — starting at $67. You have to remember that the shows I go to are for relatively small bands and I’m usually paying less than $20 for a ticket.

But you guys — fucking Boz Scaggs. He played a role in my childhood, and 2015 seems to be The Year of Sentimental Shows for me (Mike + the Mechanics, Howard Jones, SNOOP DOGG?!), so I knew that I had to go, and I also knew it meant going alone because we’re not made of money, you guys. I know it’s shocking that my blog isn’t pulling in the big bucks. But then someone bought two paintings from me on Etsy, which equaled the cost of one Boz Scaggs ticket + fees almost down to the cent. If that’s not fate stepping in…

So I was able to splurge and buy a ticket for the center seat in the first row of the balcony (there were no good seats left on the floor, and I prefer the balcony anyway), which is how I wound up spending what might have been an ordinary Sunday evening at the Carnegie Library Music Hall with several hundred of my elder-mates.

I arrived early enough to go to the “bar area” —which is just a table of Barefoot wine varietals  set up in the library— and bought a plastic cup of cheap Zinfandel. I stood alone, laughing to myself, sipping the wine, and texting Henry.

“I am the youngest one here by a very large margin. People are staring at me suspiciously!”

Henry’s response was his famously succinct “LOL.”

There was a teenage girl there with her dad and she looked PISSED.

I wasn’t sure what appropriate “Going to the Boz Scaggs Show” attire consisted of, so I just wore jeans and my favorite Lauren Conrad sweater. I realized immediately that I was just fine with what I was wearing, right smack in the middle of Steelers-sweatshirted Yinzers and over-dressed Big Night Out broads, like this one old woman in a long fur vest who almost fell thanks to the voracity of her seat-dancing during Lowdown, and an old bitch who looked like she was at the fucking opera. Her husband was dressed like he just walked off a yacht to the tune of “What a Fool Believes.” Aging yuppies are amazing to watch.

There were a lot of blazers, loafers, and yes Alyson—a sea of slacks! One woman in her 60s had on a sheer white blouse, and I mean SEE-THRU, with nothing more than a black bra underneath. She was sitting in the front row off to the side, and I sure hope Boz was able to see her from where he stood onstage.

After downing my $5 wine, I made my way upstairs and handed an elderly usher my ticket.

“Oh, this is the BEST seat up here!” he said enthusiastically.

That’s one of the perks of going solo — there’s always that one lone vacancy in the middle of the sold-out seats!

“Don’t throw any of your clothes over the balcony!” he laughed, and then I started cracking up too, at the thought of old ladies throwing bras on stage for Boz.

My seat was right smack in the middle of the first row of the balcony: a perfect view, 100% unadulterated by fat, bobbing heads and wanton usage of cell phones. (However, the Library Music Hall ushers are quick to smack down on recording—pictures are fine, though. This makes me happy, because even though I do love to post Instavids at shows, I can’t stand it when people hold up their phones for the entire show. I like to grab my 15-second clip for sentimental reasons and then shove my phone back in my pocket.)

There was no opener, so I just relaxed in my seat between two sets of old couples and enjoyed the people-watching. I don’t know why, but I expected to see at least one person wearing culottes for some reason and I was really sad when that sighting didn’t happen.

For the record, the only reason I know what culottes are is because my idiot MOM made me wear them in elementary school, because nothing adds to frumpiness like wide-legged knee-length shorts paired with ANKLE SOCKS AND MOCCASSINS, THANKS MOM.

Boz and his band came out a little after 8:00 and the night of blue-eyed soul and soft rock jams. His backing band was incredibly jazzy — there were even a few sax solos! This pleased the old people greatly and much cheering and exploding applause occurred throughout the night.  I was happy for these people to be out enjoying an artist that they loved, instead of wasting away at home, eating liver and onions and watching QVC. I hope that I’m still going to shows when I’m old.

Boz played a lot of stuff from his new album, none of which I knew, but that didn’t make it any less enthralling. I love his voice so much, and that band of his was FIRE. His back-up singer, Monet, was a show-stealer though. Halfway through the set, he said, “This is my favorite part of the night, when I get to introduce the talented Monet. But I just have to tell you: better buckle your seat belts.”

Boz took a step back while Monet blew our faces off with her rendition of “Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do).” She can SANG, ya’ll. Every last arthritic body shot up from their seats to give her a standing ovation and I was like, “FUCK YES I was here for that!” Totally following her on Instagram now.

 

Boz played three of my favorites: Lowdown, Lido Shuffle, and motherfucking JOJO, which he prefaced by saying he wrote with David Foster and I got really giddy because I was obsessed with David Foster in the early 90s when he hosted an informercial for something that I no longer remember but I feel like it was some sort of radio or stereo system? Google is not helping me.

Sadly,  “Look What You’ve Done To Me” was not in the set list for Boz’s last show of the tour, and this pains me because I noticed it was played at some of the other shows, ugh. I love that song! There was, however, another slow jam that he played that I didn’t really recognize, but it gave me the “Sitting In Pappap’s Kitchen” feels and I started openly weeping, which should shock no one as I always cry at least once at every show.

(You should have seen me at the Eisley and Copeland show last Friday. Two bands that make me sentimental to begin with, playing on a night that a Paris concert venue was just attacked by terrorists, and then someone gets engaged on stage!? My face was slick.)

Boz ended the last of several encores by 9:45 and said one final good night. I’m not used to getting out of a show so early, but I didn’t mind — now I’d have time to go home and watch The Walking Dead before it got spoiled for me!

***

What a great fucking show. Boz is like, 71 now, so I’m happy that I got the chance to see him. Even though the very next morning, I pulled something in my back when I was brushing my hair! Tell me that’s not a side effect of being immersed in a crowd of grandparents for a whole evening. It still hurts, too, FYI.

We were talking about the show at work and Todd said, “I knew it was real when Glenn said he knew who Boz Scaggs is.” And then Amber was like, “Oh yeah, how was the…..Bose…..Scaggs concert?” She will never be able to say his name right!

Life is so weird. I started the week having water squirted in my face by Beau Bokan at the Blessthefall show, and now I was ending it in what could have been the set of a new Cocoon movie. BOZ SCAGGS BRINGS THE LIFE FORCE.

(Ugh, now I’m thinking about how dreamy Steve Guttenberg is.)

Aug 152015
 

I wrote some drivel a few months ago about how I was thankful that my family took so many pictures every time we’d go to an amusement park, because not only did it help preserve some of the happiest moments of my childhood, but it also served as a time capsule since so many of those rides are no longer around. (Darkrides get no love, yo.)

My mom and grandma were chronic shutterbugs. After my grandma died in 2011, I told my aunt that all I wanted was photos. ALL OF THEM. My grandma kept tomes of photographical evidence of my youth and I want it all. Even the stuff pre-Erin. I’m obsessed with family photos, and maybe I’m grasping at straws here, but I really feel like I NEED these photos to help me hold on to a little piece of the family whom I have barely been able to identify with since 1996. I feel like an outsider in so many aspects of my life, but never as much as I have with my own family.

(Spoiler alert: I did not get a single photo from that house. Thanks, guys.)

Photos of my mom smiling are rare (you saw her wedding photos, right?), so I think this might have been an accident. FUN BEHIND-THE-SCENES FACT: Chooch was looking at this and said, “Wow,  no wonder everyone always says I look just like you. I would have thought that was me in that picture right there.”

“No one ever says that,” I snapped. “It’s always, ‘OMG HE LOOKS JUST LIKE HENRY!'”

“Really? I think I look just like you. People are dumb,” Chooch shrugged.

I love him.

KEYSTONE KOPS! I would give anything to ride this again. I haven’t been to Wildwood since 1992 and even though I want to go back so badly, it pains me to think of how different it must be now. It was hopping back in the 80s and I’m not exaggerating when I say that those summer vacations comprise the majority of my best childhood memories. It was magic. Pure magic. It makes me wonder if anything will be like that for Chooch, what memories will he turn to as an adult when he needs to think happy thoughts. I hope he has an arsenal of them to choose from.

I have absolutely no recollection of this ride, but it was definitely Wildwood, and it looks like a boat ride? Hopefully one of my dark ride enthusiast friends will see this and enlighten me.

This is one of the few photos I have of my step-dad, mom, and me all together. My mom hated having her picture taken, and I’m the same way now. Selfies are fine, but someone standing before me with a camera makes me clench.

This picture is forever one of my favorites! What you can’t see is that the Sea Serpent, Wildwood’s corkscrew coaster, BROKE DOWN with the coaster ON THE LOOP. So that’s what everyone is looking at, except for my Pappap and me, who were too scared to not look at my grandma when she commanded us to LOOK AT THE CAMERA. This is one of the memories that probably most people that day never thought about again, unless they were one of the people on the Sea Serpent, but it always stuck with me for some reason. Like I was A PART OF HISTORY. It reminds me a little bit of the time my aunt Susie and Pappap were trying to get a piece of mail out of the gutter when I was 4 or so, and it was THE BIGGEST DEAL IN THE WORLD TO ME. (That’s honestly one of my favorite childhood memories and no one in my family could ever understand why I thought it was such a big deal!)

Me and some broad on some car ride somewhere.

The Whip at Kennywood. My birth dad was there that day, too.
  

I’m not sure what ride this was at Wildwood, but OUR FACES THO. I can only imagine how much my Pappap hated going on rides but he still did it because I was his FAVORITE. And don’t you ever forget that.

I think was the first time I ever rode the Wildmouse at Wildwood!

This was definitely at Kennywood.

Back when my mom kind of loved me.

The impetus to this post was my friend Liz commenting on my recent Busch Gardens post on Facebook, saying that she still has a souvenir photo of us from Kennywood when we were in middle school, and it inspired me to dig out the above picture of us on the Music Express with my brother Ryan and the FOREIGN EXCHANGE STUDENT * who lived with us that summer. His name was Laurent and he comes up in conversation more often than you’d think for a kid who only lived with us for three weeks one summer. He is also the reason I’m wearing such stank face in this photo, because I did not like him and just knowing he was behind me made me seethe.

*(This link will take you to my old, embarrassing LiveJournal. Apologies in advance.)

So thank you Liz, for inspiring me to get up off my butt this morning and force everyone to jog with me down memory lane. AMUSEMENT PARK MEMORIES FTW.

Apr 102015
 

Grief is such a fucked up emotion. My first taste of it was when my Pappap died in 1996 and I honestly felt like there was an icy fist squeezing my heart—for months. It was this sickening, cold sensation inside my ribs, a constant reminder of loss. But even though I was grieving, and crying, and puking, and wallowing…I wanted to talk about it. I needed to, really. But my family isn’t like that. No one wanted to talk about it, but luckily I had friends…and the high school social worker.

It always made me wonder how I turned out differently. Talking about it has always been how I process, make sense, cope, and heal. I will talk about the same thing over and over until I’m blue in the face, and maybe it’s annoying for everyone else (i.e. Henry), but it helps me understand and heal so that I can go back to living my life.

On my 21st birthday, I went to visit my grandma. It had been 5 and a half years since my Pappap’s death at that point, and this particular birthday was difficult for me. I sat with my grandma on her bed and tried to talk about it. She shot me down immediately and became visibly upset at my audacity to speak of such verboten subjects. I explained that I really needed to talk about it, though, that his death had really affected me too.

She looked at me and said, “You were just the granddaughter.”

I don’t know what I thought was going to happen. Those people are just absolutely allergic to feelings, and here I am, the emo black sheep.

Am I completely over my Pappap’s death? FUCK NO. Maybe I’m not curled up in the fetal position, sobbing about it every night, but I do have those moments every now and then, on my birthday, on his birthday, at a damn Mike + the Mechanics show. But mostly, I smile when I see pictures of him, or hear songs that remind me of pool parties at his house, or post-church grilled cheese at Blue Flame. I like to talk about him and write about him because it keeps his memory alive. I try to honor him any chance I get, because he was the greatest man I have ever known. There is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think of him.

I have been grieving Marcy in this same fashion. It fucking hurts. I cry a lot when I’m alone, because that’s when her absence feels the heaviest. But…I am also able to tell stories about her at work (Glenn and Todd* are thrilled about this) while SMILING. I’m not 100% ready to let go yet. There are still some things I need to do, like the dinner we’re having with some of our friends tonight in her memory, the actual burial next month (the pet cemetery doesn’t start burying pets until May), and the tattoo that is already being drawn up. And then on Monday, Amber

 

*(Yesterday, I thrust my phone in Todd’s face and said LOOK AT THIS PICTURE OF MARCY FROM ONE DAY LAST SUMMER WHEN I WAS LOCKED OUT OF THE HOUSE AND SHE DIDN’T CARE. Todd was like, “OK. Wow.” Also, Todd is terrified of cats, so my Marcy stories don’t really do much for him.)

****

Completely befitting of Marcy’s volatile nature, it was thunder storming pretty savagely on Thursday evening when we arrived at Animal Friends. I half-expected to be struck down by lightning, one last act of Marcy-controlled physical infliction.

We were a little bit early, so we spent some time looking at the shelter animals. Mistake, mistake, mistake. I was crying before the vigil even started.

At 7, we gathered in a small room with seven others. Two were the volunteers in charge of the vigil, and one was a Methodist minister who was there to provide the spiritual portion of the evening. There was an older woman who lost her dog, an older couple who lost their dog, and an old lady who lost her rabbit. (And when I say “older,” I mean “older than Henry.”) To start off the vigil, one of the volunteers stood up and read the Rainbow Bridge poem, and I just sat there, box of Kleenex on my lap, openly weeping. It was OK — the older woman who lost her dog was sobbing too so that was comforting. Kind of.

The minister told us a story about her childhood dog, and I briefly considered converting to Methodist and joining her church, because she was pretty awesome. I started to feel better listening to her homily. She talked a lot about grief and how losing a pet hurts just as much as losing a person, and the worst thing that anyone can say to us during this time is, “Get over it” or “It’s just an animal.” She made me feel less crazy.

After the homily, the main volunteer—Jannie—read each story that we were asked to submit ahead of time, and as she read for each pet, the other volunteer lit a candle and presented us with a rose, a copy of the Rainbow Bridge rolled up like a scroll and tied with ribbon. Attached to the ribbon was a paper heart with a seed inside of it, for us to plant in our pet’s honor. I cried so hard listening to the story’s of the other pets being read. Everyone else there wrote about their pet’s death, but I didn’t include that part in Marcy’s story. I just wrote about what she was like, and Jannie interrupted herself when reading it to say, “Geez, she sounds like Grumpy Cat!” It was nice to laugh with everyone. But at the end of the story, Speck was mentioned and Chooch started crying when he heard her name. He is still so upset about her death, three years later, and it breaks my heart. When we came home from putting Marcy to sleep, Chooch took a picture of Speck off the wall and carried it around with him the rest of the day. Totally heartbreaking.

After the vigil, Jannie invited everyone to stick around and share more stories about their pets. “You know who I’m dying to hear from? Riley!”

I kind of thought he was going to pass, but he sat up straight and said thoughtfully, “Well…Marcy only ever scratched me twice, but she didn’t have her claws out so it didn’t hurt. I guess she was just warning me. Um…every time Mommy’s friend Janna came over, Marcy would attack her and then Mommy would laugh and post about it on her blog.” Everyone was laughing, and I thought that was all he was going to say, but then he burst into tears and, a la Chunk being interrogated by the Fratellis, went on to say, “I liked Marcy, but I was the most upset when Speck died. She was my favorite cat.” And you guys, he was crying so hard that he was shuddering in his seat. I felt so terrible and kept squeezing his knee and patting his back, and the volunteers and the minister were so quick to offer wisdom and words of comfort to him.

But it was good for him to cry and important for him to know that it was OK to cry. It was good for all of us to cry together, with strangers who are going through the same thing, rather than keep it all bottled up and act  like nothing happened, like my family always does. I honestly believe that not properly dealing with their father’s death is what made my mom and aunt crazy.

My favorite part though was when I got to show everyone a picture of Marcy. Everyone was like, “Oh wow! Those eyes! What a beauty!” and I was like, “Yeah, that’s how she got you! She lured you in with her looks and then attacked.” That was the funniest thing about her: for as much as she “hated” humans, she was ALWAYS FRONT AND CENTER. Any time I had a party, and I used to have a lot of crazy parties back in the day, she was always present, stalking around the floors or glaring down from tabletops, just waiting for some idiot to stick their hand out. She was fucking smart as shit. Scary smart, really.

Before we left, one of the volunteers said, “I just want to  tell Riley that I think it’s awesome he loves cats. Men who love cats are so rare and special. One day, you’re going to meet a girl, and she’s going to say, ‘Here, meet my cat!’ and when she sees that you’re a cat lover, she’s never going to want to let you go!” Chooch was still quietly crying, but this made him smile (and blush) a little.

I felt OK when we left. A little less heart-achey. Not completely “cured,” but I think that was a really helpful and important part in the process for me. I’m the type of person who needs to DO SOMETHING about it. I can only lay in bed and cry for so long. I need to talk and be with people and laugh and remember. (If Barb was there, she would have for sure quoted the “laughter through tears” line from Steel Magnolias*. I think it’s her favorite thing to quote.) And this night of grieving with strangers helped put some light back into me.

And, I think it helped Chooch even more than any of us imagined.

*(It really does feel good, though.)

 

Apr 032015
 

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Thankfully, being snap-happy runs in my family, so my bro Corey was always taking Polaroids when he was 8. The day after she died, he texted me this photo he took right after I brought her home in 1998. I’m so glad that he did, even though it made me cry, because it also brought back good memories.

I know I told this story before, but IDGAF. I was working at Olan Mills when I was 18, and one day the proof consultant mentioned that her neighbor’s cat had kittens, and there was one left that they were trying to place. My family was NOT into cats. I had barely ever even been around any cats, so the whole time I’m like, “Erin don’t do it—” but it was too late — my hand had already shot in the air, and I had claimed this kitten.

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The next day, this tiny, weeks-old fur ball was waiting for me in a box near my work station. You guys, this is no joke: this might have been the first time I ever got heart-eyes. My boss Gladys wanted me to name her Shaniqua or something equally as dumb, but I knew right away that she was going to be Marcy. I was really into alternative rock back then, and Marcy’s Playground was the shit, y’all. It was Marcy or GTFO.

Though I did have a wide array of “a/k/a”s for her, such as: Mitch, MadgeOla, Smidge, Maybe It’s Maybelline, Pretty Rainbow Sparkles, Jock Strap (???), Plumey (because of her big, full tail), YoYo Berry, Girly SueSue, and Shark Attack. But her full, God-given name was Marciples von Schlugenhusen.

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I couldn’t believe that she was the last one in the litter. How was she not the first one adopted?! I feel sorry for the people who opted for the other kittens, because they have no idea that they passed over the sassiest, bossiest, most motherfucking regal feline in all of the land. Their loss, my gain.

My rocky relationship with Psycho Mike was ending around this time, and there’s no way I could have known how much I needed her. Marcy was like a 24-hour therapy session, with bright blue eyes, soft fur, and a propensity for stealing my food right off my plate and taking up most of my pillow space. The healing process started as soon as she stormed her way into my life.

Janna and I used to take her for drives around town, because I had always had dogs as pets and thought that this was a normal thing. Turns out, nope. She wasn’t really down with that, so we eventually gave up.

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Marcy accumulated an eclectic array of interests and disinterests in her 17 years.

She hated: me, laughter, Janna, children, the other cats, the mailman, the gas man (notably the one who called her “that dog”), bubbles, having her tail touched, being pointed at (she would come at you), being tic-tac’d (I would tap her on the back and then turn and pretend it wasn’t me), having yacht rock dance parties, when I would hold her up to the mirror and cry MOMMY AND MITCH IN THE MIRRORRRRR, God.

She loved: Henry, Satan, Frostys, Cool Ranch Doritos, the taste of blood, the smell of fear, destroying puzzles, game board-blocking, going outside with Henry’s mom, yelling at birds through the window, when I would rub an ice cube on her in the summer and say OOOOH, NICE N’ COO! (OK, maybe not the last part), having a reputation, generally being left alone.

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It occurred to me the other day that Marcy was in my life longer than my Pappap was. This utterly blew my mind. If you have never had a pet, maybe this seems absurd, but she had as much impact on me as he did. They were both strong, positive constants in my life; two very different beings from which I felt comfort and familiarity. He was my entire childhood; she was my entire adulthood up to this point. And it’s pretty ironic, because my Pappap hated cats with a passion. No one in my family ever even THOUGHT about getting a cat while he was around. So it’s giving me a little bit of peace to think of them together right now, my Pappap trying hard to pretend that he doesn’t like her. You know, like she did with me. <3

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Mar 182015
 

It was all the way back in October when I was getting ready for work and heard on the radio that Mike + the Mechanics were touring America for the first time in 25 years, and Pittsburgh was one of the stops. I freaked the fuck out and texted Henry immediately because I needed to see this.

When I was a kid, my Pappap used to drive me to school (which is probably where my fear of public transportation stems from—I never rode the bus to school!) and he went through a pretty heavy Mike + the Mechanics phase after they released The Living Years. He kept the cassette in his truck and every time the title track would play, he would thrum his fingers along the steering wheel and get real quiet. He told me once that this song made him think of his father, but because I was At That Age, I never actually bothered to ask him questions about their relationship: if it was bad, if there were things he regretted saying or not saying to him, did he miss him. So in a way, this song has always had the same effect on me, as well. And after my Pappap died in 1996, I would sometimes listen to this on purpose, just to make myself even more miserable. Because why not.

I had to go to this show, because I just couldn’t stop thinking that maybe my Pappap would be there. Dumb? Don’t care.

In addition to this, there are the other face-value factors, such as MIKE RUTHERFORD. I loved (and still love) Genesis when I was a kid, and while I got to see Phil Collins, I never had the opportunity to see Genesis. So even though M+M have two new singers who replace Paul Carrack and the deceased Paul Young, being under the same roof as Mike Rutherford was worth it to me. And the other factor is that it’s just a great fucking band with some huge hits that defined my childhood.

Every time I would hear the commercial for the show on the radio, I would tear up. And all last week, I was sick to my stomach with excitement and also anxiety, because I knew it was going to be a rough one, emotionally.

Henry and I had time to stop for dinner beforehand, and because it’s all about me, we went to the Tin Roof, a vegetarian restaurant a few blocks away from the Carnegie Music hall. The food was OK, but I’m so spoiled by Zenith that it takes a lot to impress me when it comes to vegetarian cuisine. I had carrot ginger risotto, which was slightly burnt and served on a roasted portabello mushroom; I feel like Gordon Ramsay would have called the cook a donkey over that one, but I still ate it and it was fine. Henry basically ordered the thing on the menu that had the most cheese because god forbid, No Meat.

I had some wine to calm my nerves. It didn’t work.

Thrilled to be on a date with me!

We arrived shortly before the opener went on, and I was happy to see that Henry got us the same seats we had for Goblin last year. I love balconies! And then we looked on in amusement as more and more people trickled in and Henry realized he was one of the Younger Ones for once. And if that was true, then I was practically infantile by comparison.

I love the vibe at Older People shows. You know I love my scene kid shows, but sometimes it’s nice to experience other things, too! I was about to say that older people are much more respectful and appreciative at concerts, but then I remembered the old hags I was standing behind at Afghan Whigs at Riot Fest, who never shut their fucking Botoxed faces. So we’ll just go ahead and say, “Mostly.”

Daryl Stuermer, also formerly of Genesis, opened the show at 7:30. He played some covers as well as his own solo stuff, but what I liked best was when he would talk in between songs. Especially when he told the story of when his friend urged him to audition for Genesis in 1977, and then Mike Rutherford sent him a cassette of demos.

“You seem like the type of crowd who would be familiar with cassettes,” Daryl joked and I laughed just a tad too hard, because Henry hates that.

Then when Daryl announced he was from Milwaukee, I adopted that weird growling-voice I do sometimes and said in Henry’s ear, “So was Jeffrey Dahmer.” Henry just shrugged me away from him. 

My favorite parts of Daryl’s set was when the man in front of me would pump his fist and cry out, “YES!” and then follow-up with a quieter “Yes.” Also, I enjoyed his cover of “Shock the Monkey.”

It was sometime around this point where I fell into my standard, “What if someone starts shooting?” paranoid thoughts, and then I started laughing out loud at how absurd it would be to start a story with, “That one time I got shot at a Mike+the Mechanics show.”

After Daryl peaced out, Henry and I went to the makeshift bar and I got more wine. Henry got beer or something, I guess.

And then it was time.

Everyone went nuts when they came out, and while I do love to see an old folk go apeshit, my heart was beating so rapidly that I didn’t have it in me to mock any of them for Henry. I know he felt sorely remiss. All I kept on thinking was, “OMG THIS IS HAPPENING YOU GUYS!” because “you guys” are always in my thoughts. Whoever the fuck you are.

The new singers? PHENOMENAL. I was so worried they were going to stink up the classics, but nope. Nope, nope, nope. Tim Howar was my favorite of the two: he reminded me of a young Phil Collins, ironically, vocally and appearance-wise. I fucking swear to god he kept looking up and smiling at me too, and not at the old lady in front of me, so don’t get it twisted, lady. Immediately, I was like, “OMG HENRY I HAVE A CRUSH ON HIM” and Henry was like, “He’s wearing a scarf, so…”

So I was OK, smiling and clapping a lot through the first two songs, just generally being happy to be there, when “Silent Running” happened. Earlier that day, I told Glenn, “I am going to cry so hard when they play Silent Running” because I just love that song so much and my god, the childhood memories. However, I was mostly joking. I figured I would probably tear up like I do at most shows, but what happened that night was so much more than “tearing up.” Before I even knew what was happening, tears were straight SQUIRTING out of my eyes, my face involuntarily scrunched up, and my bottom lip was quivering so badly that I was afraid I would never get it to stop.

I had gone from “Yay this is fun” to “UGLYCRY” before the vocals even kicked in. I went from “OMG TIM LOOK AT MEEEEEE!” to “OMG TIM STOP LOOKING OVER HERE, I’M A MONSTER. A WET-FACED MONSTER!!” It was seriously concerning. I mean, I’m crying right now just typing this.

And then Tim performed the Genesis track “I Can’t Dance” and if I closed my eyes, it really felt like Phil Collins was there. It was SO GOOD that I actually stopped crying for a little bit.

This bimbo in front of me was wildin’ out all night and at first I was all about it, but then After the Tears, I was so pissed off and wanted to punch her in the back of the head because I was miserable and EVERYONE AROUND ME NEEDED TO BE MISERABLE TOO. (Seriously though — she was fine. I was just being a crybaby. Literally.)

And they played “Taken In”! That was one of the many highlights I was witnessed through tear-blurred eyes. It had been a really long time since I heard that one.

But then the inevitable happened: They played “The Living Years” and I couldn’t stop it. I tried. So hard. But I began to absolutely sob and I was actually too distressed and absorbed in my own pitiful cocoon of grief to be even a little bit embarrassed about it. My whole face was spasming and soaking wet with tears, so I can only imagine what a lovely sight I was STOP LOOKING, TIM. I mean, I cry pretty much every day because I’m Erin Rachelle Kelly, but I can’t remember the last time I expelled such pent-up sadness. It was a good old-fashioned bereavement.

Every word of that song slammed against my heart like a mallet and I just felt pain. Everywhere. Like arthritis all over my body. I put my face into Henry’s chest and wailed, “This was a mistake.” Almost 20 years and it’s still like this this gaping wound that time just fucking refuses to heal. And though it was painful, it was worth it in the end. Like honoring a part of my childhood, one of the best parts of my childhood. I think my Pappap would have been happy to know I was there.

“Weren’t they incredible?” I sighed to Henry in that weird, on the verge of hiccuping voice you get when you cry like a little bitch for too long. And my Henbot 4000 blip-bleeped that “they were ok.” And then I cried about it some more in the car, because when you open the floodgates….Shows like this really make realize how much I’m carrying with me.   “You look really tired,” Janna said when Henry and I came home to relieve her of her Chooch-sitting duties. I guess that’s what an hour-long power-weep will do to you.
*********
Coincidentally, the next day Janna and I were en route to Cleveland, and because road trips are the best times to reminisce, we were talking about the stupid shit that’s happened over the course of our friendship, including the time I almost killed an FBI agent and the time I got pulled over at 3AM for going through a flashing red light in a pretty bad area of Pittsburgh and then your basic traffic violation hilarity ensued (a story for another day).

“We were listening to Mike + the Mechanics that night, you know,” Janna pointed out, and I have no idea why I can’t remember that, other than it was probably when I was going through one of my many mental crises.

*********

It felt like losing my Pappap all over again.

Jan 222015
 

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In collecting old photos of my Pappap’s house, I found several that reminded me of how much music has always been a part of my life, and why so much of it naturally reminds me of that house.

I got my first damn cassette player from my grandparents for my third (fourth?) birthday. A year or two later, I upgraded to a Fisher Price tape recorder—it was taupe in color like all electronics were in the early 80s and came with a microphone, which I would hold up to TV speakers in my Pappap’s den, in order to record shit from Friday Night Videos. Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” was on my very first mixtape. That song came on in the car a few weeks ago and I tried to get Chooch stoked on it but he only thought it was just ok.

The above picture was taken on the porch of my Pappap’s house, and anytime I hear the song “Under the Boardwalk,” my mind automatically beams me back to that porch, sitting at the glass table, playing Monopoly and listening to the Bruce Willis version of that song over and over while my grandma babysat me and my brother Ryan in the late 80s. AND THAT WAS MY FUCKING JAM.

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Here we have my grandma holding me in the kitchen, and you can just barely see a stereo system on a shelf to the left. This is how I grew to love Phil Collins, Kenny Rogers, and Gino Vanelli and also grilled cheese sandwiches. SOFT ROCK 4 LYFE. NO SHAME.

(I made my Pappap order me the Time Life “Body Talk” CD collection, and literally every song reminds me of either sitting in that kitchen or my favorite childhood restaurant–the Blue Flame.)

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This is my aunt Susie and me in the clown room. Inside the desk behind us was a record player, and this is how I heard Frank Zappa for the first time ever.

There was always music playing in that house back then. And today, there is always music playing in my house. Sometimes different music is playing in multiple rooms at once (soft rock radio in the bedroom, Spotify on the computer downstairs, music videos on TV); this drives Henry nuts. Especially if we’re watching something on TV and then I scream something unintelligible and clamber up the steps because some cherished song is playing on the bedroom radio and I want to pretend like this is a serendipitous moment, like I can’t just queue it up on my phone, and so I’ll flip down on the bed and listen to “In the Air Tonight” or “Eye in the Sky” like I haven’t heard it in 20 years, while Henry is downstairs mumbling, “How did you even HEAR that from down here?”

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some soft rock to Spotify.

Jan 102015
 

My nostalgia over this past week rubbed off on Corey and he started rummaging around our childhood home (our mom still lives there; he waited for her to leave so she wouldn’t freak out because God forbid her kids might be curious about their family heritage). He texted some of these old photos to me the other night and they really made me smile so much.

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A rare photo of my mom and me seemingly having a nice time together. This was either in Wildwood or at Kennywood, I’m not sure.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression: things weren’t really that terrible between the two of us back then. But she was always really weird about having her picture taken—way weirder than I am even, but this is certainly where I get my camera phobia. Most pictures of my mom, she looks like she’s frightened or she is trying to hide behind her thick flaxen hair curtain.

I always thought it was such a shame, because my mom was so pretty back then.

It’s scary how drastically unhappiness can change a person’s appearance.

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Some of the greatest memories of my life took place on Sylvania Drive. (Also some of the scary flashbacks involving my birth dad, but gotta focus on the good or the bad will just eat away at you, right?). This photo is my friend Christy and me sitting on the back of my stepdad’s truck with my brother Ryan. When Ryan was born, I was the biggest brat about it. I didn’t want to not be an only child anymore, but mostly I didn’t want to share my Pappap! I was still in my I HATE RYAN phase when this photo was taken but don’t worry—we ended up being pretty cool with each other after awhile. (Even though I was accused of pushing him down the attic steps when we moved into our new house in Jefferson Hills, and to this day, I promise you that’s a lie. Unless I was having a rage blackout. Then it’s entirely possible.)

The first girl in this picture was a younger girl who lived across the street and Christy and I would always try to hide from her because she was so annoying and I feel like her mom used to yell at us a lot. Her last name was Mellon but Christy convinced me it was Watermelon.

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And then this picture. The holy grail! I had never before in my life seen this, and Corey said Val (a/k/a our mom) had it stuffed in a drawer with a bunch of papers.

The man in the hat is my Pappap, and the woman behind him and to the left is my grandma. I think this was taken in the Bahamas, because I know they used to go there a lot when my mom was a kid. (I feel like there’s a story about Susie bringing home a boy from there when she was a teenager, so now I think Corey and I need to hound her for details.)

This picture is so surreal to me, like a still from some old French film. My Pappap looks so badass. I need a copy of this photo in the worst way, but that seems like an impossible task at this point in the family relations game. UNLESS COREY CAN “BORROW” IT LONG ENOUGH FOR ME TO GET A GOOD SCAN.

I don’t know who the other people are, but I bet my mom and her sisters do and I really wish we could all get together sometime and look at pictures together and you know, keep our family history alive. There is so much I don’t know and, as a compulsive memory chronicler (or, you know, HOARDER), it makes me absolutely twitchy.

I had a much better story that I was going to write about today but CHOOCH is monopolizing the computer (he’s getting interviewed on some game he’s playing? I have no idea what he’s talking about) and I didn’t feel like doing any actual word-fashioning via my iPhone. Such blogging woes.

Coming tomorrow: more scintillating snippets of the Cleveland 2004 trip via my paper travel journal. TRY TO TONE DOWN THE ENTHUSIASM.

Jan 082015
 

Right before Christmas, Henry had a bunch of my old 8mm tapes transferred to DVDs. It was pretty much the greatest/worst thing he could have done, because I am a sucker for nostalgia. And once it baits me, I’m tough to reel back in. He picked ten tapes at random, because he had a Groupon. One of those tapes happened to be the oldest one in the box, and it started with one of the Christmases from when I was in middle school. So, maybe 1991? 1992? Henry was dying because even with my back to the camera, my body language was a neon sign for This Girl is Pouting. “Oh good lord, were you kids spoiled,” he muttered while I smiled sweetly at the memories of these past Christmases. But then the video switched from my family’s house to my grandparent’s house, and for the first time in 15 years, I heard my Pappap’s voice and tears simultaneously sprung forth. Just seeing my parents, Susie and her then-husband Mark, my grandparents and my great-grandma sitting around the table, while Sharon supervised us kids opening more presents, and hearing everyone laugh at whatever hilarious joke my Pappap had made….it started out like a kick to the gut, but then, surprisingly, I was able to watch it without tears in my eyes, while making fun of my pre-teen self. For years and years, I clung to the past in a really unhealthy way, wishing that my Pappap hadn’t died (OK, I obviously still wish that; that hasn’t changed) and that our family hadn’t broken apart like Pangea, that we still all got together for holidays and I hadn’t been basically banned from my grandparent’s house.

So we’re watching these videos and Chooch is getting super pissed.

“I bet your Pappap gave you like, a lot of money for your birthday, didn’t he?” he asked angrily.

“Not really,” I answered casually. “But, we were usually in Europe for my birthday….”

“Oh my god, I hate you,” Chooch cried. “Like, really hate you.”

I’m not going to lie. While there was certainly dysfunction under my own roof, and my relationship with my grandma was strained at best, my Pappap did everything in his power to make sure that I had a charmed childhood. And I love him so much for that. He’s the reason why I try to give Chooch interesting/weird/cool experiences. I might not have a lot of money, and I certainly can’t take him to Europe every year for his birthday, but I will still do whatever I can to give him good memories.  My Pappap kept me from turning into a spoiled brat (OK, I have my snobby moments even as a poor person) by being a kind, humble man.

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This was taken one of the last times I was over there, in 2010.

*****

Once my grandma’s health began to decline about 10 years ago, so did the house. It was just her and my aunt Sharon living there, in this house that could comfortably shelter multiple families, and they just couldn’t keep up. Occasionally, they would call Henry over to make minor repairs, but there were larger issues that weren’t being addressed, landscaping that had been overlooked for years, a pool that hadn’t been maintained since the late 90s. You get the picture. Just like our family, it was falling apart.

When my grandma died in 2011, we thought for sure the house was going to be taken. My mom and Sharon have been in a world of financial struggle for more than a decade, and I couldn’t imagine how they were going to afford to keep the house. But Sharon continued living there, alone, and it just seemed like they kept dodging bullet after bullet that the bank was firing at them. And even though I am so removed from them and the situation these days, I was secretly glad that they were somehow stealing more time. Because this house was all we had left of my grandparents and the memories of The Good Days. The BBQs and pool parties and sleepovers and Christmases on the porch where there was usually one person mad at another person, but it was still so much better than this, how it is now, this nothingness, where we’re no longer a family but basically just a bunch of strangers with chunks of matching DNA.

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*****

Two days ago, I was at work when Corey texted me a Realtor.com listing.

Sharon finally did it. She put the house on the market.

I could taste the bile rising as I scrolled through the pictures of peeling wallpaper and dust-coated glass tables. I sat at my desk, willing myself not to cry. I will never be able to put into words how much this house means to me, how all of the best memories of my childhood were born under that roof, in that pool, among the woods in the backyard. It was my happy place. It was where I sought refuge in my teen years when my dad and I hated each other. It was where I would stop on my way home from school to sit at the kitchen counter and help my grandma with her puzzle while the Guiding Light theme song bleated out of the small kitchen television set. It was where my friends and I would hang out in high school, watching the hockey game and horror movies on that huge wraparound couch in the game room. Sometimes I think, if my memories of that house are this beautiful, it must be like looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for my mom and aunts.

I know. It’s a house. It’s just a house. No one died.

But…the memories. The nostalgia. The scents and the feels and the sights of that crazy velvet wallpaper and the gaudy opulence of the clown room — it’s not just a time capsule of my childhood, but also a veritable set design for the strange aesthetics of the 60s and 70s, like if you could walk into the word “Groovy” and pop a squat. Their interior decorator (yes, they had one; his name was Herbie) definitely went for Liberace Lite.

When I show people pictures of the house now, they’re like, “Are you fucking kidding?” But this was normal to me. This was real life. This was what I grew up in. I thought every house had hidden rooms under the steps where Pappaps kept a collection of Cameos brought back from the War, a house-wide intercom system, a master bathroom with Roman-esque pillars, a basement with three separate game rooms: one with a bar, one with a pool table and arcade games, one with a poker table and furniture made from barrels.

Corey said that he spoke with Sharon that day and that she seemed OK, like she had finally come back down  to earth and understood that this is what she needs to do, that it’s time. And even though it hurts so bad, like an entire limb is being taken from me, I know it’s the right thing, too. And I hope that once Sharon is out of there, she can finally let go and start living life again. Maybe this is what she needs to do to finally start healing. Because she hasn’t been the Sharon I used to know, not since that traumatic night in 1996.

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******

Corey and I are trying to gently convince Sharon to let us come over for one last time. We just want to look around, run our fingers over the curios and crystals, take some pictures. I just want to breathe it in one last time before some asshole buys it and completely remodels it.

A few years ago, I posted the only pictures here I could find, taken from 2007-2008. It’s mind-blowing to me how a house that was once so open and inviting (it was surprisingly warm and cozy in there, like a sanctuary) turned into a bolted-up, secretive fortress. I haven’t been inside there since 2010, and that was for about 30 minutes before Sharon was shooing me out.

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This painting was supposed to be mine. This was all I wanted, plus all the old photo albums. I don’t care about the money. I would rather continue living in pseudo-squalor than taking their handouts.

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Chooch in the Clown Room, standing near a sharp-edged glass table, wooo parenting!

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Master bathroom, one of my favorite rooms as a kid.

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Someday I hope to have a house to cover in strange wallpaper.

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Sharon wasn’t home one day so my grandma let us take pictures of Chooch in the gameroom. Sharon is real weird about me being in the house, like she expects me to start pocketing the Lalique and Lladro. (Not gonna lie, I wouldn’t mind giving all of those clowns a new home.)

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His shoes were on the wrong feet—parental duties on lock.

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My friend Evan always liked to play chess at this table back when we were in high school.

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My grandma let Corey and I have a photoshoot in there one day until Sharon caught wind and made us feel so tense and nervous that we eventually just left.

Someday, before the house is gone, I want to break in and take more pictures and just get one good, long look at what seemed so normal to me as a kid. I spent some of the best days of my life at that house, watching “Golden Girls”, “Empty Nest” and “Hunter” during Saturday night sleepovers, eating grilled cheese, and playing PacMan in the game room while “She Bop” blared out of the jukebox. Until I convince Sharon to let me in, I’m going to tear through every last photo album I have for more pictures. I feel absolutely panicked about this.

Spending so much of my youth in that house stimulated my imagination and cultivated my eclectic tastes.  I owe so much of who I am today to that strange, magical place on Gillcrest. It was my refuge.

************

I came home from work the Day the House Was Put on the Market and was looking through an old tin of mixtapes, in hopes of finding the one I had just written about the other day. It’s been a good 10 years since I had rooted around through this tin, and  the first thing I saw when I removed the lid was this picture of my grandparents from 1991 and my heart split in two:

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Sometimes I believe in signs, and this was one of those times. I feel like this was their way of saying it’s OK. That we don’t have to keep that house in the family to keep their memory alive.

Nov 042014
 

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Yesterday was my Pappap’s birthday. Or, would have been. I did really well until right before bed and then I cried myself to sleep because sometimes you just need to let it all out. Just let it all out, it’s ok!

I woke up with a terrible headache.

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I would say it’s gotten easier since he died in 1996, but that’s not entirely true. In a lot of ways, it’s gotten so much worse. But I can at least make it through entire days at a time without falling down the rabbit hole of ugly mourning.

Having a child makes it kind of harder to ignore that slow-burn, sinking sensation inside my chest. Because now when I watch Chooch attempt to hit targets at amusement park shooting galleries, it makes me think of how he will never know how much my Pappap loved those things. Or how my Pappap would always let me blow out the candles on his birthday cakes and would 100% let Chooch do the same. Or how he was just the best guy I have ever known. I never thought I would meet a guy even half as great as he was, until I met Henry. I hate that my Pappap never got to meet Henry.

I have been in a really weird place lately, family-wise. I just really miss him a lot, still. I miss my whole family.

Jul 022014
 

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It might seem weird since I’m a vegetarian and all, but what I was most looking forward to in Frankenmuth was eating at one of their famous Bavarian chicken joints. There are two to choose from: Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s, and they supposedly HATE each other. My friend Michelle told me that the two families basically built Frankenmuth so no matter which place we picked, it would be a big deal.

I mean, if you’re like me and give a shit about these things.

Zehnder’s and the Bavarian Inn really are right across from the street from each other, but there were no picketers or chicken dinner sabotage that I could see. No one was egging each other’s windows or passing out derogatory flyers. But since Roadside America mentions their rivalry, I know it must be true. I just wish it was more blatant and spectator sporty.

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I personally wanted to eat at Bavarian Inn, because it just had more of a Black Forest aesthetic to me, but Bill kept piping up with the merits of Zehnder’s, which just looked like some dumb colonial slab and not at all lederhosen-y. Turns out Bill might have eaten there once sometime in his liftetime and I think he forgot to tell us the part about how a Zehnder’s busboy saved him from choking on their world famous chicken dinner so now he feel indebted to them.

But then Jessi mentioned that she has eaten at the Bavarian Inn before and liked it, so PRAISE JESSI, we settled on the Bavarian Inn because girls rule! There was no blantant anti-Zehnder’s propaganda inside the doors of the BavInn (my new, sweet pet name for it), but I should have at least wrote “for loose bowels, call Zehnder’s” in one of the bathroom stalls. Ah, hindsight.

Fuck you, Zehnder’s.

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I want shutters like that on my imaginary never-house. 

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I anticipated a long wait, since this  seemed like the type of place that was like the Disneyworld of Old Country Buffets* for elderly tourists, but we had a table within 15 minutes!  And even had a scantily-clad Bavarian beefcake entertaining us with an accordion. (I mean, he was showing a lot of thigh and calf, but not a lot of below-knee, because that was covered with a modest swath of wool.)

*BavInn isn’t even a buffet so I have no idea why I wrote that, other than the fact that it’s 150 degrees in my house.

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I told Chooch that this place was going to be like the Hooter’s of Frankenmuth, with Bavarian boobs spilling out of corseted beer garden dresses. Partially because I was trying to get him stoked on eating there (he’s at that age, guys; boobs are everything), and also because that’s what it looked like in my hopes and dreams. Turns out the waitresses’ costumes were way more modest than the accordion player and his scandalous leg-skin.

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There was no cleavage to be had. Not even of the accidental variety.

Back to being a vegetarian: I was pleasantly surprised that the Bavarian Inn had an entire vegetarian menu! Bill said he only asked for it because he overheard someone in front of him asking for it. It wouldn’t have even crossed my mind to ask because places like that usually don’t cater to my kind and I was fully prepared to just get some side dishes but instead I got to have vegan chili and BY GEORGE it was fucking great. It had quinoa and perfect little cubes of sweet potatoes and was just a true delight my tongue even though I can’t imagine a real Bavarian eating that on their lunch break at the cuckoo clock factory.

It didn’t matter, because I still ordered a side of SPAETZEL. You guys, spaetzel. That is my ultimate comfort food because my Pappap, whose family was from Austria, made a huge pot of these buttery Alpine dumplings every Christmas and they were just spectacular. After he died, my mom tried to carry the torch but they just never tasted quite right. And then I asked Henry to make them one year for Thanksgiving but his came out really small and pathetic because he doesn’t have any of the good European regions in his genes, I guess. I  mean, I still ate them of course because anything coated in that much butter is still going to taste rad. But I just haven’t had any as good as my Pappap’s, not since 1995.

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And these noodleturds were by no means bad! Bavarian Inn has their shit together but these were just seasoned in a way that deviated from my Pappap’s spaetzel perfection. I still ate the ever-loving fuck out of them though. Why wouldn’t I?

Can we talk about our amazing waitress Kristi for a minute? Chooch spilled his lemonade all over the table so she swooped in and moved us to a clean table right next to us, all without making Chooch feel like a heel for being a normal 8-year-old who spills things in restaurants. And she brought us copious amounts of this delicious sweet bread (bread that’s sweet, not sweetbreads) which we enjoyed with ridiculously magical homemade strawberry jam. And our lunches were delayed so Kristi also brought us out bowls of German potato salad, coleslaw and something else that I forget now, but it was all perfect and made me want to book a Globus tour ASAP.

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Chooch was really anxious to sayeth Prayers from the Psalms before he ateth his chickeneth. (Everyone at the table got chicken, because duh—Bavarian Inn is world famous for that shit. Maybe one day they’ll be renown for their faux-chicken too. Now I wish I had ordered the fake chicken patty on pretzel bun. Oh well, there’s always next summer when we go back and stay at the Bavarian Inn, because yes, they have a huge resort-y hotel too. WITH WATERSLIDES.)

My second favorite part of the experience (hello: Spaetzel #1) was when I mused out loud about the comfort of the waitresses’ dresses and then a few minutes later, upon Kristi’s return to our table with more iced tea for Henry, Bill asked her what might have been the creepiest thing she had been asked by a man all day:

“Excuse me, but is your dress comfortable?” he asked casually, like he works for Cotton and it’s his job to determine a woman’s comfort as research for the next commercial featuring some random blond actress who can also kind of sing alright.

The Fabric of Our Lives: Dirndl Edition.

“You know,” she said after thinking about it for a few seconds, “it really isn’t too bad. It’s the nylons that drive me nuts, though. I can never wait to get home and peel them off, you know?” And Bill nodded knowingly.

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PSHHHHH. You wish, Zehnder’s. In your dreams.

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This is the back of the glorious Bavarian Inn. Surely there’s a nook or cranny somewhere in which I can live undetected.

You know I must have been stuffed full of spaetzel when I declined dessert, and they obviously had streudel, you guys. Motherfuck, do I love streudel. My grandma’s side of the family always made some sick streudel.

Streudel and spaetzel. These will be served at my pretend wedding. By Bavarian beer maidens, all named Gretchen.

Jesus, is it any wonder I’m a slut for Bavarian things? My childhood memories practically reek of edelweiss.

Jun 152014
 

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People always say they’re sorry when I tell them Paul is dead. That’s nice, thank you, but I wasn’t ever really sorry about it. I was just about to turn three when it happened, so I barely knew him. And based on everything my mom and her side of the family told me, it was better that way.

He was an addict.

He was abusive.

He was a monster.

He was my dad.

One day, my step-dad had grown exhausted of all the “YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD!”s I would verbally smack him with, so he made me sit with him in his truck while he told me the things my “real dad” did to my mom, things with steel-tipped boots that would require her to have pictures taken of her face at the police station. I should feel “lucky” he had died so that he wouldn’t have abused me, too.

I spent a lot of time as a teenager wondering if my mom regretted me, if every time she looked at me I reminded her of the traumatic years she spent married to some guy she was terrified of. I wondered if she wished he had died before I “happened.” When I was diagnosed as bi-polar with explosive anger disorder, my mom spat, “You got this from your DAD.” The way she looked at me that day is an image I will take to my grave, like I was a monster that simultaneously disgusted and horrified her.

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I have four pictures of Paul. It’s surprising they even still exist, considering how my family doesn’t like me to have anything. Looking at these now doesn’t exactly trigger any memories for me, but for some reason, “Eye in the Sky” by Alan Parsons Project brings back a vague recollection of being in a restaurant with him. There were also these visions I’d have that I always felt were flashbacks. It was the same scene over and over, from a third person’s point of view, looking up at the steps in the house I grew up in. It’s night time, and suddenly my mom appears at the top of the steps, holding me as a baby, and she’s running from Paul.

The subject of Paul was pretty taboo in my household, but one day when I was in middle school, I had the balls to tell my mom about this flashback.

She laughed bitterly.

“Things like that happened all the time when your dad was alive, so it’s probably real,” she said, telling me about a time when he chased us out of the house and then followed my mom as she drove us to his mother’s house, where he proceeded to hurl a glass pitcher at us in the kitchen.

“It missed your head by this much,” my mom said, her thumb and forefinger almost touching.

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Paul died in 1982 because he was drunk driving and crashed into a tree in South Park. He was in a coma. I don’t know for how long, or if my mom pulled the plug. I just know that it wasn’t a dinner table conversation. The few times the topic was broached, it was always quickly silenced with a sympathetic “You’re better off for it.”

My childhood didn’t necessarily feel affected by his death. My mom married my step-dad when I was 4 and to me, that was the real start of my life. My step-dad even legally adopted me when I was in fourth grade, at which point I officially began to call him “Daddy.” Sure, we didn’t have the greatest relationship at times, but it was alright.

Better than if Paul had survived, everyone would remind me.

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However, the only real father figure I ever had in my life was my Pappap. He was honestly my hero and the only person who loved me unconditionally. He always made me feel like I wasn’t the product of my mom’s horrific marriage, but maybe I was—GASP!—the silver lining. I don’t remember him ever saying a bad thing about Paul to me, and I feel like if it weren’t for him, I would have grown up with a(n even bigger) chip on my shoulder, that maybe I would have let Paul’s death define me.

My Pappap gave me normalcy in an otherwise emotionless vacuum. I couldn’t get that kind of stability from my mom and I was never close enough with my current dad to go to him if I needed to talk.

So, I guess you can thank (or hate) them for my constant need to put out all of my thoughts and feelings for public consumption.

****

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My mom was pretty damaged from her time with Paul. I couldn’t see that then, obviously, but the pieces started falling into place as I got older. It was like she had emotionally shut down after that, and she was never really present in her marriage with my new dad. I mean, they had two kids together, but looking back on it, I can’t recall a time when I caught them laughing together or talking to each other about things that didn’t involve work, finances or what to do with their crazy ass daughter who was skipping school and doing all of the drugs.

(I wasn’t actually doing drugs but they were convinced. Also, that I was trying to commit suicide every time I shut my bedroom door.)

They ended up divorcing years later, but he is still the only man that I have called Dad. His name is on my birth certificate, after all.

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****

My mom sprung the news on me right before I turned 20. It was summer and I was living in my second apartment when she came over to tell me that I have an older brother from one of Paul’s previous relationships. His name is Shawn and she wanted me to meet him immediately rather than risk me “accidentally meeting him in a bar and going home with him” someday.

That might have been one of the grossest things she had ever said to me. She’s always been so great at making awkward situations even more uncomfortable.

So I met Shawn. He apparently always knew I existed and had been in touch with my mom for quite awhile. He told me that he would sometimes go to her office just to talk, which blew my mind because I couldn’t imagine ever going to my mom “just to talk.”

Shawn didn’t really have much to say about Paul, but he went on and on about how wonderful that side of the family is, how Paul’s mom Lois practically raised him, and how sweet our aunt Charmaine is. I had this whole family that I had been kept from and I was starting to get pissed.

****

After Paul died, my mom extracted herself from his family. She told me once that it was because they were all Jehovah’s Witnesses and she just didn’t want to deal with that. I can remember shopping with her at Hills, sometime in the mid-80s, and having her practically toss me into a rack of clothes because she saw people she knew and she didn’t want them to see us. Once we were safe in the car a few minutes later, she told me that it was my aunt and grandma we were hiding from.

This was normal to me: hiding from relatives in department stores, running up to the attic window to see who was ringing the doorbell, answering the phone for my mom because it might be Donna Thomas calling with PTA bullshit.

No wonder I get such anxiety when the pizza guy knocks on my fucking door.

****

I grew up thinking my family consisted of my mom, my current dad and my two younger brothers, Ryan and Corey. I had two sets of grandparents: one on my mom’s side and one on my dad’s side. That was my normal. That was all I needed.

But now I had this older brother, and he really wanted me to meet our Grandma Lois. Shawn and I didn’t talk or see each other all that often, but when we did, the subject always came up. He gave me her number, but I didn’t call. I was so weirded out by all of this, because while this was going on, my mom was also reuniting with her daughter she had put up for adoption pre-Paul.

I started to have a major identity crisis.

But finally, after about a year of persuading, I went to meet my Grandma Lois and Aunt Charmaine. I can tell you that it was 2001 and I was wearing an autographed Nickelback shirt because I was clearly going through a really awful (yet thankfully SHORT) phase. It was just an all-around really bad time for me, you guys.

Lois and Charmaine pulled out photo albums and spoke glowingly of Paul. “You look so much like him!” they kept saying, and well, I wouldn’t know because my four photos of him weren’t exactly professional head shots.

I learned that he was funny and smart but just never applied himself. That he loved my mom but they were volatile. That they were actually separated when the accident happened, but that things had been getting better. That my mom was an absolute basket case in the hospital after the accident.

They told me that when he met my mom, he wanted to marry her so much that he would say things like, “I’d marry you in Alaska in a snow storm if you wanted.”

But….drugs and alcohol, you guys.

This was the first time I wasn’t barraged with anti-superlatives about him. I started to see a different version of Paul after that. He was someone’s son. Someone’s nephew. Someone’s friend. People loved him in spite of his addiction.

And, for the first time, I saw the accident as a tragedy and not just a Thing that had Happened. I began to feel angry that everyone had told me my whole life how I should feel about it. How I was better off. How did they know? I came down with a case of the Dreaded What Ifs.

What if he had gotten clean?

What if he and my mom just weren’t meant to be with each other but it turned out he was a fucking fantastic father?

What if my family was exaggerating?

I left Charmaine’s house and went straight to Jefferson Memorial, where I sat next to Paul’s grave and cried about him for the first time in 21 years.

Mar 132014
 

It was all because Tonic’s one wonderful hit “If You Could Only See” came on the radio last night as Henry and I were getting ready for bed.

“This song reminds me of when I went to get my GED,” I sighed nostalgically. (Which I originally spelled “nostalgicly.” Surprisingly, “Is ‘nostalgicly’ a word?” was not one of the questions on the test.) And even though Henry has heard my stories ten-fold by this point, he laid there silently while I told him about the boy I met at the McKeesport YWCA, and how we spent our GED testing breaks together in an alcove. (TALKING! We were just talking.) His name was Adam, this beautiful Mulatto boy who enjoyed building computers, which my 18-year-old self thought was pretty nerdy but his face made up for it.

The GED testing was split up into two sessions, so I got to see Adam once more, and this time, as we sat in the alcove after we finished the test (first ones to finish, whaddup), he asked me for my phone number. Right after I gave it to him, Psycho Mike arrived to pick me up.

“Is that your boyfriend?” Adam asked, as we watched from above as Mike entered the building.

“Yes,” I sighed sadly. (Mike and I had a really awful relationship that thankfully would expire a few months later.)

“Damn,” Adam said. “I was hoping you were going to say he was your brother.”

***

“And then he never called me!” I cried to Henry. “He could have been The One!”

“Maybe he didn’t call because you had A BOYFRIEND,” Henry spat.

Yeah, let’s go with that. But I seriously think about him every time I hear that fucking Tonic song. Even though I don’t remember his last name. (And I honestly only remembered his first name this morning.)

Taking the GED test was really an experience. And by “experience,” I mean CULTURE SHOCK. Before testing started on the first night, people were bitching to each other about how they needed to get home to feed their kids and take care of other Real Life things, when my only priority was going to the Plaza Café for grilled blueberry muffins and coleslaw with Psycho Mike and then renting an Argento movie next door at Firehouse Videos. And I remember slowly slouching down in my seat at the realization that these people likely dropped out of high school for actual, uncontrollable circumstances (I didn’t have to be a seasoned stereotyper to deduce that I was basically the only spoiled suburban bitch in that joint) while my reason was “because I felt like it and I wanted to see if my family would give a shit.”

Spoiler alert: They did not.

“Yeah, but would it have really changed anything if you had graduated high school?” Henry asked. And that was a good point, because graduating high school wouldn’t change the fact that my grandfather died when I was 16, and believe me, things would have been a lot different if he had still been alive. For instance, I definitely would have finished school and I 100% would have gone off to college right away, got swept up in the wrong crowd and likely wound up becoming a raging fan of Dave Matthews and OAR. (This is what I associate with college, apparently.)

And that’s something I think about a lot, not how dull my music preferences might be, but would I have still met Henry? If I had gone to college, I probably wouldn’t have been an office manager for a meat company when I was 20, so where would I have met him? The Army Navy Store? And then what about Chooch?!

This was all too much to think about before bed, so I changed the subject to having another baby, because THAT’S not a heavy conversation or anything. But before Henry could answer, I said, “But what if it wasn’t yours? Would you still stay with me and raise it as your own?”

Henry made a YOU’RE FUCKING JOKING scowl, but I elaborated. “No! I was beaten and raped by a ghost, and that’s how I got pregnant!” Henry started to roll over, a sign that he was peacing out of the conversation, but I kept pressing the issue, until he finally said, “THAT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN!”

“TELL THAT TO THE WOMAN BARBARA HERSHEY PORTRAYED IN THE ENTITY!” I yelled back, nearly in tears from laughing. Then, trying to reel him back in with affection, I put my hands on his chest and screamed, “OMG IS THAT YOUR REAL NIPPLE?”

“No, it’s my fake one,” Henry said dourly. It felt like it was in the middle of his chest! It was dark and I couldn’t see! I just wanted to make sure he wasn’t growing things I was unaware of.

We were quiet for a few minutes. Henry was actually probably already asleep, because he’s like a magician when it comes to sleep. I tried to stop it, but I could feel the giggles convalescing inside me, deep within the pit of my belly, so I silently shook for awhile, taking the entire bed along for the ride to Giddyville. Henry’s one eye opened slowly. “What?” he sighed.

“Nothing,” I squealed as a mouthful of laughs tried to launch themselves out of my face-cannon. And then it was all over. I sprayed Henry in the face with my uncorked vim & vigor, my stomach aching from the exertion. And I laughed and laughed and laughed, tears streaming down my face, while Henry just stared at me and asked me again, in his Papa H tone, what was so funny. (He gets paranoid.)

“I’m just thinking about getting impregnated by a ghost!” I cried, curling up into a fetal position to keep from peeing my pants.

This inspired Henry to expound once more on the physical improbabilities of this situation ever occurring, because he’s a mirth-murderer.

I forget what I said, but he thought I said something about “boozing,” so then I started scream-laughing all over again.

“It wasn’t that funny,” Henry mumbled.

“Yeah, but now I’m picturing myself at the bar with your fake nipple!” I wheezed.

If everything happens for a reason, then dropping out of high school was the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

And after all that, I still dreamt of Jonny Craig.

)

Jan 312014
 

Corey found our parent’s wedding album and texted me pictures from it this afternoon, which I can honestly say has been the high point of this week. Even though I was 5 when I made my debut as a flower girl (my dress had tiny bells sewn into the ruffles, you guys! and my shoes were Candies!), I have only vague recollections of this day at best. (Because clearly all I cared about was what I was wearing.)

Thank god my mom’s facial expressions and vacant eyes fill in the gaps. I feel like she FOR SURE popped some pills that morning.

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Fuck, they hated me, lol.

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My Pappap looks PISSED. My grandma is totally hissing, “SMILE. THE NEIGHBORS MIGHT BE WATCHING.” Susie knows her dress is the shit (seriously, Wendy and I both agreed that we would totally wear that dress right now in 2014). I’m too afraid to look at Sharon. She looks like she’s casting a spell and I don’t like it.

BUT LOOK HOW HAPPY I AM!

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I think someone didn’t want to get hitched that day.

(Also, thats my great-grandma in the rocking chair. She was from Yugoslavia and didn’t speak English*. Also, she scared me.)

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A poster for REGRET.

****

I honestly cannot stop laughing at these. I mean, I’m thankful they DID get married because otherwise, I wouldn’t have my brothers, but Jesus Christ their marriage was loveless before it even began! They make Henry and me look like a cover of a romance novel.

*ED.NOTE: I’ve just been informed by a family member that my great-grandma was very kind and DID speak English, so what we have here is an example of another lie my mom told me when I was a child.

Apr 102013
 

Today I was walking home from taking Chooch to school when it occurred to me that I have officially lived more of my life without my Pappap than with him. It hit me like a load of bricks.

I found this shop on Etsy where this lady transfers photos onto slide film, tucks them into these glass bubbles and hangs them from a necklace. I knew immediately that I had to buy one and I started thinking of all the photos I’d want her to incorporate, and while it’s not some nice, studio portrait of my pappap, I knew exactly which one HAS to be immortalized in glass.

I wrote this in 2008, but I’m reposting it today because it’s one of my all-time favorite childhood memories and because, almost thirty years later, I am still that amused and giddy little girl over the stupidest things, like when the lady who collects the “last mail” from our department came from the opposite direction a few weeks, or finding out Henry was in THE SERVICE and had a door that led to the basement in one of his apartments. (Don’t ask.) So while it seems like nothing has been the same since my pappap died in 1996, I guess some things haven’t changed one bit.
————————–

When you’re a little kid, the smallest happenings can seem like these life-stopping newsworthy events and you sit there with your mouth agape and your eyes so wide and grip the edge of your seat, waiting with bated breath to see what will happen.

Everything is a big deal when you’re a kid.

I was probably around four or five when my Pappap came home from work with the mail. It was a summer afternoon, so I was on the back patio, probably with either my grandma or my aunt Sharon. My Pappap rifled through the mail and noticed that his youngest daughter Susie had a letter.

He called up to her on the sunroof, and she shouted for him to try and toss it up. I remember sitting on a lawn chair, their lawn chairs had these taut vinyl slats in varying shades of green and white but sometimes the skin on my thighs would graze the scalding metal of the frame in between the slats and I would get tiny welts. I’m sitting on this lawn chair, playing chicken with the fiery metal, and thinking, just knowing, that this wasn’t going to pan out the way Susie would have liked.

I watched as my Pappap tried to toss the letter against the wind, hoping to get enough momentum that it would skim the top of the ledge, but instead it fell back and skidded straight into the gutter.

My Pappap had to throw himself into full MacGyver throttle in order to rescue her precious letter, subscription notice, credit card bill. Who knows what it was. But even after he mounted a patio table and used the aid of scissors to guide the envelope from the dastardly clutches of the gutter, Susie still had to exert a modicum of energy to lean down and grab it.

And I’m watching this, from the green and white vinyl slats of the lawn chair, thinking that I’m a part of something big, something huge, a memory that we’ll all share together and laugh about at holidays. And everyone else went about their day, because things like this, they’re not enough to fill an adult with giddiness. They’re glitches in regularly scheduled programs, they’re “oopsies” moments that evoke a few chuckles but then get lost in the back of the mind while bills are being paid and the news is being watched, until the memory is eventually eradicated altogether. But not kids. Kids retain these things and latch on to them and call upon these tiny moments when they need something to smile about. Kids revel in it and wish everyone had seen it and kids inflate it into something so much bigger, larger than life. It becomes real life Saturday morning cartoons.

I don’t remember what the damn letter ended up being, or who it was that shared enough of my sentiments to treat this as the Kodak moment it truly was, and I don’t think we ever reminisced and hyucked about it over turkey legs and sweet potato pie, but I know that every time I see this picture, I laugh and remember being so small and watching something so big.