Jun 262008

 (Final version of a dumb essay I wrote for my Creative Non-Fiction class last fall, and never posted because I forgot.)

You might not know it, but North Versailles, a town once thriving during the height of the steel mill boom, is the home of a veritable Valhalla for thrifters, crafters, and peddlers. Residing in the old Loews Theater — forced into bankruptcy in June of 2001 by an over-zealous eruption in the multi-plex industry — Rossi’s Pop-Up Market Place is a glorified flea market for the twenty-first century. It’s a place where one could find an entire table lined with quilted purses, looking foreign outside of the Bingo hall; no less than two tables selling staplers amidst collectible spoons and cookbooks; cardboard boxes brimming with broken toys and stuffed animals; and racks of black-and-gold feathered boas. Situated on thirteen acres of paved land, vendors come from all over to set up booths and tables inside the vacated theater and all along the once-desolate back parking lot.

The weather was dreary on the day I visited, with showers bullying the outside vendors in sporadic episodes. Even with only a third of the back lot being utilized and the omnipresent threat of rain, the hardcore flea marketers were not deterred, as evidenced by the number of times my boyfriend was forced to circle the main lot in search of an empty parking space.

            It was still relatively early on a Sunday morning, yet the parking lot was already a-bustle with shoppers darting in and out of traffic on their way back to their vehicles, arms pregnant with loot. I was at once awash in a sea of fanny-packs and spandex-sausaged torsos, Steelers jerseys and trucker caps, high-waisted seersucker trousers and Hawaiian-printed shirts; they scurried in erratic patterns like locusts during a Biblical plague. Two of the locusts — a visored elderly couple, one of whom toted an old lamp in grotesque shades of the Seventies — crossed in front of a line of moving vehicles, with little regard. If this is any indication of the pedestrian carelessness in flea market land worldwide, I’m not surprised that a young boy was killed in the nineties when a truck backed into him when this market used to be located down the street at the now-demolished Eastland Mall. In its previous carnation, the flea market was called the Superflea and with the local mall now in ruins, the people of North Versailles basically had only Wal-Mart to rely on for their Olympic-shopping needs. But in 2005, the denizens of the defunct Superflea were invited to utilize the empty space of the Loews Theater by the building’s owner, Jim Aiello. What did the Superflea vendors do during the interim of Eastland’s demolition and Aiello’s metaphorical handing over of the golden key? Thank God for eBay, I guess.

The inside of the converted theater harbors the booths and tables for the more high-brow set: Racks of clothing that haven’t been worn before, handmade crafts, baked goods — generally nothing that has been previously worn or used. I decided to tackle the back grounds first, so we quickly bypassed the frustrating stop-and-go traffic flow of bargain hunters determined to scrutinize every last piece of price-tagged merchandise.

Posted to the back door was a typed and laminated sign that insisted “No heelies to be worn inside or outside.” My boyfriend obsessed over the meaning of “heelies” for most of our visit (wheeled shoes, you dumb ass), but I had more important issues vexing my mind: I needed to know who Rossi was.

Upon exiting the back doors, I was immediately barraged by a goulash of dueling aromas: teriyaki chicken and soul food duked it out to my right, while the best of Poland’s delicacies sparred to my left with the hot sausage sandwich heavy weight over at Mike’s Neighborhood Grill (also notable for his award-winning Philly cheese steak). Two food trailers competed with the controversial spelling of kielbasa. (Or is it kolbassa?) At nine o’clock in the morning, haluski and fried chicken were not the most nasally pleasing scents. If it was afternoon, and, you know – I ate meat, I’d have been in my glory.  Interspersed between so many savory selections were trailers shilling funnel cake, and the Slushie King was doling out sno-cones to children who displayed such a caricature of excitement that I wondered if they had never delighted in frozen sweets before. It was like Rossi’s very own carnival midway.

In spite of this festival of food, the rest of the parking lot gave off the vibe of a ghost town. If tumbleweed had blown past my ankles, it would have been suiting. There were tables lined up, but the hearts of the people manning them just weren’t in it. No one yelled things like, “Two dollars! Two for three!” or “Are you looking at that weed whacker?! It works! It really works! You can see for yourself, FOR TEN DOLLARS!” Walking past a table stacked with old issues of Woman’s World and a paltry selection of VHS dramas (Steel Magnolias was a steal of a deal for a buck), two middle-aged women sat slouched over in lawn chairs. Staring straight ahead with glazed-over eyes, the one whose mouth had yet to become mummified by boredom’s glue mumbled, “I can’t believe we have two more hours of this shit.” It never occurred to me before that these people are taking chances when they rent out lots. If the weather, so notoriously unpredictable, is sketchy that day, the vendors could potentially lose out on a lot of money, breaking even if they’re lucky.

The weather hadn’t managed to put a damper on everyone’s day, though. I walked past one woman, fresh from purchasing a VHS chockfull of show tunes. As she trotted back to her group of fellow flea marketers, I heard her squeal, “And it has ‘Luck Be a Lady’ on it too so we can all sing together tonight in the living room after dinner!” A small part of me hoped she was being facetious, but mostly I derived a perverse pleasure in imagining that some families do functional things like after dinner sing-alongs, maybe while wearing bonnets, and then I imagine myself watching from behind a bush, laughing and taking video to post on You Tube.

I was making my way down the third aisle of tables and still hadn’t found a single item that was worth parting ways with the crumpled dollar bill stuffed into the pocket of my jeans. In the past, a lone dollar bill had gained me a nudie mug, a chipped metal bangle bracelet that leaves a bruised band around my wrist, and a 1940’s 8×10 school portrait of one of the table vendors. That was my favorite flea market find, I think. I made up an elaborate back story about how he was my vampiric Uncle Otis who was haunted by chimeras of his ex-lover; I couldn’t imagine why my friends didn’t believe me.

Oh, I had seen such sights on this day though, like an entire table piled with hats of all styles and varying degrees of camouflage. Some of the hats went a step beyond and boasted embroidered John Deere patches and one had a real knee-slapper of a slogan draped across it: “Remington: Size Matters!” Had I been there alone, I’d have gladly set up camp and waited all day just on the off-chance that I’d get to spy the lucky person to score that gem.

Other tables are decorated with children’s books that look suspiciously five-fingered from the library, like “Why Am I Going to the Hospital?”,  and yellow-paged mystery novels by Dean Koontz and Nora Roberts and I know without getting too close that they come complete with the musty stench of a grandmother’s basement. Laid out on ratty and frayed bath towels are a downtrodden array of rusted shovels, hoes, hedge clippers and spades — a serial killer’s wet dream. Or a gardening fetisher’s. An entire table was devoted to glassware that must have looked really good when it was used on the set of “Mama’s Family.”

A woman hawked jewelry draped along the hood of her maroon Alero while next door, a burly man sporting a sleeveless American Legend shirt and a rustic beard stood cross-armed over his collection of tools and Harley Davidson bric-a-brac. I definitely wasn’t interested in any biker memorabilia.

Every few minutes, the oldies tunes – the elevator music of flea markets — blasting from outdoor speakers would cut out and a booming voice bubbling over with a showman’s enthusiasm would remind us shoppers to stop by Teresa’s Treasures, formerly known as Frick and Frack, for some fresh baked goods; or he would promote the aforementioned Mike’s Neighborhood Grill, who must have slipped the MC a Hamilton because there was a real urgency to his voice every time he would tap on the mic and remind us that hey, Mike’s still over there in the red and white trailer frying up some of that award-winning grub of his. OK, we get it: Mike rules.

Intrigued by this bodiless voice, I abandoned the garage sale fare of the outdoors for the more glamorous vendibles inside. Also, that’s where the bathroom was.

The main difference I observed inside was that each table has its own niche. Unlike the tables in the parking lot, the merchandise here was new and laid out in a neat and eye-catching array with glitter-painted signs that yelled, “Hey look Real Stillers shirts here! Tags still on!” and “Ninetento [sic] tapes $5-$8!” Above the storefronts of the indoor vendors hang wooden signs with their store’s name burned into it. Coincidentally, the maker of those very signs had his own booth set up, with a TV – squatting in the midst of charred wood signs — airing a running loop of his workshop. I paused to watch it, but became bored after three seconds. I’m sad to see that Eileen’s Crafts & Whatever: Home of the Special Angels is closed, because maybe I might have wanted to buy a special angel, or a ‘whatever.’

Later that day, after lamenting the fact that I couldn’t even find one single coral necklace or macramé pot holder amongst the knoll of orphaned junk to bring home, I dwelled once again on Rossi. At this point, I didn’t even care about meeting him. A tiny blurb on a website would have sufficed. Or perhaps a MySpace profile.

Google searches for Rossi’s identity only bring up individual websites of several of the vendors, such as Deanna’s Mountain T-Shirts. She is very excited to announce via her webpage that you can find her brand-new Betty Boop and race car shirts at Rossi’s every Saturday and Sunday! When she’s not slinging those and her new and gently worn jewelry, she designs websites. I hope they’re as visually pleasing as her website, with all of its seizure-inducing emoticons and gifs. I mean, if I’m paying for a professional website, I better get a blinding background and lots of waving American flags, and maybe a cheery midi file droning on as the page loads.

Determined to find answers, I revisited Rossi’s a week later. The sun was shining bright and the temperature was September’s signature crisp and clear; in other words, the venders were easily excitable and rearin’ to go.

Admittedly, I wanted to catch a glimpse of this elusive announcer, too. My boyfriend laughed and said, “Um, you walked right past him and his podium last week when you went to the bathroom.” I wasn’t sure if I completely believed my boyfriend that the MC’s voice was not really the product of a tape playing in a loop. I wished for a twist ending where I would tug back a heavy velvet curtain or at the very least a moth-eaten sheet of burlap, to find that Rossi and the announcer were one and the same.

I had to employ the Cardinal rule of flea markets: do not make eye contact with sellers if you’re not trying to waste money. They’re like puppies in a pound – you toss them the tiniest bone of a glance, and you’re taking their shit home with you.

Sometimes this doesn’t work, usually when you end up idling past a seller who is overly-anxious to be rid of his cache. A mustachioed man, noticing my small child in the stroller, spastically lunged into his pile of corroded tapes and waved a Barney video at me. “Barney video, one dollar!” he barked. I smiled and kept walking. I’m sure it was full of titillating moral tales, and my child will obviously grow up into a puppy-kicking plane hijacker without the guidance of a purple dinosaur in his life, but no thanks. He wouldn’t give up. “Barney tape, for free!”

Not one to pass up free swag, my internal dialogue was a’swirl.

                       It’s free!

                      But it’s Barney!

                      But it’s free!

“Oh, thank you, but I don’t have a VCR,” I quickly stuttered, shifting my eyes. He was still blurting out offers when I nervously jogged to another table, far away, that wasn’t shilling free children’s tapes. Why don’t the elderly ladies shilling fantastically kitschy costume jewelry make such offers? Further down, another man looking as though he were visiting from the mountains of Appalachia, caught me pointing to his luxurious collection of dented, rustic oil cans and asking the boyfriend what the hell they were.

 “Are you looking at my fan? Two dollars! And it works!” I recoiled slightly at the sight of his mouth rot.

No, I was looking at your shitty rust receptacles, but thanks.

As I was toeing the line between boredom and frustration, unable to give a shit about tattered cook books with coffee rings and cheap sunglasses framed in fluorescent shades, the sky parted, golden rays of second hand angel dust rained upon our heads, and the voice of the announcer reverberated through the lot.

 “Wayne and Ellie Jackson, there is a situation at your vehicle that requires immediate attention.”

Wayne and Ellie’s vehicle could have been taken over by pygmies playing horse shoes and on a normal day, I’d have been the first one on the scene to get the 411, but I could not shake my preoccupation with the MCs voice. So instead of rubber-necking out in the lot, I made my way past stacks of ugly abstract art, discount candy, and unripe produce, until I was inside the market place, boyfriend and baby trailing behind. I thought I heard my child whining, but my pace didn’t falter; sorry son, but Mama’s on a mission.

Once inside, it was all a blur. I hurried past the lady manning a table of bread and gloves (although I did slow down a bit to see if the gloves were the kinds with the rubber nubbies on them as I have a slight fetish); I bumped into a man looking at baseball cards and vaguely recall him grunting a reply to my rudeness; I paused briefly to demolish a sample of apricot pastry. Always pause for pastries.

As I rounded a corner, my boyfriend pointed. “There he is right there. MC Rich K.”

Standing behind a podium, all wrapped up in a snug leather jacket, loomed the body behind the voice. I had every intention of talking to him, asking him about this supposed Rossi character, but my voice was caught. I had built him up so much in my head, maybe as much as Rossi by that point, that he had become my own Wizard of Oz, and now he was standing there before me, yelling into his cell phone like some hot shot Wall Street power broker.

 “I just gave you an ad! Didn’t you hear it?” he shouted disgustedly.

This was the body of the voice coated with Santa-caliber merriment? If I were a vendor, I’d invest in a bullhorn and do my own publicity before relying on that asshole.

Intimidated, I instead grabbed a brochure from the information kiosk next to MC Rich K, playing it off like that was why I had come barreling toward him, and then I went home. I guess I wasn’t too determined after all.

The brochure ended up being a poorly edited odyssey down comic sans lane, and of course any information regarding the enigmatic Rossi, now fabled in my mind, was furtively omitted. Maybe Rossi isn’t even a person. Maybe Rossi is the dead childhood goldfish of property owner Jim Aiello and it’s a tribute in the same vein of Snickers, the candy bar named after a family horse. Food Network taught me that.

Or maybe I should just take a nap and wake up with a new futile obsession.

Regardless, even though my pressing questions about the flea market’s namesake went unanswered, I’ll be sure to go back the next time I’m in the market for a purse with sequins so big, it could solar power an entire house on its own.


Jun 102008

Friday, June 6, 2008


Today I was looking for Chooch’s juice cup and thought perhaps he left it on the window sill. When I pulled back the curtains, something small and grayish in color hit the floor with a plop. I screamed and jumped back. A few seconds later, I saw it jump underneath the TV stand. I called Henry immediately and reported to him that we had in the house what I assumed was a toad. “It’s definitely something that makes a plopping sound when it hits the ground, so whatever that is, that’s what’s in the house.” Happy birthday, Henry!

Chooch stood by the TV for awhile, lining up some of his cars on the shelf. Looking at his bare legs and feet, I figured it was probably not the best idea for him to standing so close to our house guest (whom I lost sight of). What if it wasn’t a toad at all? I entertained the idea of a brand new species hulking around back there in the corner, perhaps something with tentacles, venom, and red pubic hair. I pulled Chooch away from the TV and made him play somewhere safer, like near the basement steps, and continued flirting with that thought.

I kept my feet tucked underneath me on the couch for the rest of the morning.


Henry came home from work and pulled the TV back. “It’s a mouse, you retard.” Then he left to get sticky traps, because I was adamant about not killing it.


People at work have informed me that those sticky traps kill mice. “Sometimes a mouse will chew its own foot off to escape from those traps,” my boss said. I texted Henry: ABORT, ABORT. Henry says mouse removal is officially my responsibility.

“Tell me you’re not this worked up over a MOUSE,” Eleanore said disgustedly. I ate a good almond cookie.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


Diary, it is 1:00 in the morning and the mouse is perched above the screen on the front window! He’s really cute; I’m talking to him and feeding him shredded cheese. I don’t know what his name is yet so I’m just calling him “Hey little buddy.”  It reminds me of when I was in elementary school and I taught a Praying Mantis how to count change. Henry said he’s a field mouse. “Like Secret of NIMH?” I asked. “Yeah, like Secret of NIMH,” he said, sounding a bit impatient. We’ve been watching it intently for fifteen minutes now. It just scratched himself and then stepped on the cheese I sprinkled. Every time Henry gets too close, the mouse tenses up and makes like he’s going to run — I’d get tense too if I saw a big bearded douchebag approaching me  — but when I approach, he is calm and we make casual eye contact.

I’m thinking of the cozy house I’m going to build for him, with a little chimney and fresh daisies in a tiny vase, but then Henry just tried to catch him with an empty iced tea canister, causing the mouse to attempt suicide by leaping to the floor. Look Diary, that mouse is cute and cuddly, sure, FROM AFAR. But I guarantee if that thing starts scampering around my feet, it’s going to get booted into the wall. Losing sight of it, I tug on Henry’s shirt and hug him from behind and I bet he wishes I was wearing a strap-on. Henry is mad now because he “could have had it” but he couldn’t bend down with me grabbing at him like that. He was all, “GO STAND OVER THERE,” and if he had it his way, “there” would be at the bottom of the ocean with a few cinder blocks and a chain.

The mouse ran back behind the TV.


Hey, I haven’t seen that mouse in awhile. I can only hope it’s off making hundreds of babies somewhere in my house.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


A few minutes ago, I was treating my brain to some quality reality TV programming, as you do, when I heard a strangulated growl coming from the dining room. I looked up and saw Nicotina (aka Speck, Breakfast Nook, Pickles) with my little buddy IN HER MOUTH. At this point, I don’t know the mouse’s status (breathing, not breathing), but my rescue mode is activated and I start screaming bloody murder for Nicotina to release the damn mouse. Henry and Chooch are upstairs and probably think the house is on fire or there’s a hatchet lodged in my head with the way I’m flipping out. I yelled up to Henry what was going down and heard him mumble, “Jesus Christ.”

Cornering Nicotina on the back porch, I grabbed her just before Marcy came stalking through the kitchen to get a piece of the action. Marcy does NOT need to be involved in this. She scares me. Nicotina looked highly confused, her eyes said, “Is this not what I’m supposed to do?” I held my breath and snatched her, mouse and all, and keeping her at arm’s length, I ran with her to the front door. Before I had a chance to pull the door open, she spat the mouse out onto the couch and he scurried behind the pillows.

Henry and Chooch are downstairs at this point, and Chooch started crying; probably because he didn’t understand why Mommy was raving  with bugged-out eyes like a woman scorned. I ordered Henry to help and he reluctantly grabbed a diaper and held it open like a catcher’s mitt, muttering under his breath about how he should have just killed the fucker on Friday. I put aside my desire to donkey kick him and focus on making it through the night with no casualties. The mouse ran off the couch and fell into one of Chooch’s toy bins. “PICK IT UP AND TAKE IT OUTSIDE! WE STILL HAVE A CHANCE!” I screamed. Henry threw the bin on the front porch and said, “YOU go out there and YOU dump it out.”

So I did. And the mouse ran to freedom. Nicotina wouldn’t look at me for the rest of the night.

I was so amped up after that, that I couldn’t sit down. Fuck, Diary, I wish you could have seen it; it’s the most amazing feeling to save a life. I highly recommend it. I kept wanting to talk about it with Henry, but he was thoroughly unimpressed. “Normal people would have killed it, but not you. You have to turn it into a Thing.” He won’t admit that I deserve to be knighted. I called Christina and she said the whole time I was telling her about it, she kept envisioning me as Dog the Bounty Hunter.

I think I want to do this for a living, this saving mice thing. I want to be on Animal Planet.

Monday, June 9, 2008


I’ve been telling everyone about my rescue success, about how valiant I am. Kim and Collin said something about me needing therapy, but I know they’re really just trying to downplay their awe. I showed Kim the picture of Frederick (that’s the mouse) and she admitted he was really fucking cute.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 TODAY


Chooch just pointed to the floor in the living room and innocently asked, “Whassat?” A dead mouse, that’s what. Shit, isn’t this chapter closed yet? I’m trying not to panic, trying not to wonder if it’s Frederick. Maybe he came back for more shredded cheese. All I know is that he wasn’t there five minutes ago when I walked across the room to the couch. I asked Chooch who put it there and he said Speck. That bitch.

I called Henry and yelled SOMETHING TERRIBLE JUST HAPPENED. He told me to throw it outside, then hurried up and made sure I knew not to touch it with bare hands. So I wrapped it gingerly in a paper towel and placed it on the front porch.


THE MOUSE IS GONE. A FUCKING BIRD TOOK IT. I called Henry and, in quick-speak, relay to him the latest development. “….and so I had it on the porch so that you could bury it when you come home—” Henry interrupted me with genuine laughter. “–and now it’s GONE.” Henry gave me a talk about nature.


Bob told me there are probably a hundred more mice in my house.

I don’t want to do this for a living anymore.

Apr 032008

Southgate House

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

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

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

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

Xiu Xiu

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve never been more embarrassed to be white.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xiu Xiu

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

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

In 2004, I wrote this in my LiveJournal:

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

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

And then I’m raped by a mannequin.

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

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


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 142008

Since the year 2001, my sole purpose in life has been to ridicule Henry as much as possible, and in ways he never could have fathomed, on the Internet and off.

This involves looting through his belongings; eavesdropping on phone calls; creating fake blogs, MySpace profiles and personal ads in his name; giggling every time he talks to other men; and A LOT of help from my side kick, Photoshop.

But sometimes, Henry makes it too easy. Like today, when he was looking through all his shit that I made him keep in the garage and not in my house, and came back into the house cradling his Air Force year book.

"Holy fucking shit, give me that!" I cried, snatching it from his meat fists. "Please tell me you’re in here!" He watched impatiently as I flipped frantically through the pages, gagging on the fumes of 1983.

"Gimme that," he said in frustration, opening the book to the page I wanted.

Running my finger down the page, I quickly found his name. I started to laugh really hard. Really, really hard. But then I stopped and said, in shock, "Dude. You kind of weren’t too gay-looking then." He rolled his eyes. "No seriously, now I wish you still looked like that. Aw, why did I have to get the stupid-looking version of you?" I’m not used to seeing Henry without his molester-stache.

Maybe I would like him more if he wore that hat all the time. I bet meals would taste better if cooked with him underneath his service hat.  Maybe I would show him some respect if his dome was capped with this prestigious relic.

That’s funny.

Maybe I would like him more if he was monochromatic.

As I’m hysterically typing this, he walked past and asked, "Does this really require an entire entry?" Does my universe center around laughing at his expense? Does an orphan slurp porridge? Does Michael Jackson grab crotches? Does auto-asphyxiation feel good?

No, really — I’m asking.

There was a candid, too! Of all the luck.

 At least this tells me that Chooch should hopefully get a good twenty years of cuteness in before his looks are shot to Hell.

Jan 132008

2008 01 04 028 

I don’t know when my son’s obsession with cars began. Sometime in November, I think. He’d stand by the front door and yell, "Caw! Caw!" like a true Bostonian, any time anything with wheels drove past, bicycles and skateboards not excluded.

For Christmas, we told everyone to just get him cars. Cars and juice seemed to be all he had an interest in so why disappoint with airplanes, building blocks, or Backyardigan accessories? When we took him to see Santa, he could have given a shit that he was perched on Santa’s knee. All he had eyes for was the plastic car that the photographer was undulating and squeaking in an effort to eke a smile out of him. "Caw! Caw!" he yelled in a panic with outstretched arms.

Some people got him official Pixar Cars merch for Christmas, and he seemed genuinely appreciative, even though he had never seen the movie. It was on last weekend though, so Henry squeezed what little intelligence he has left in his brain cells and had the foresight to DVR it. Chooch’s first viewing lasted a few short minutes before he moved on to other things, like moving his armada of cars from the floor to the dining room table, standing back to appraise the new lineup, and then relocating them to his tent (which takes up two thirds of my living room).

That ambivalence didn’t last long. I made the mistake of placing him on the couch one morning last week, tucked his blanket and juice cup next to him, and put on "Cars" so I could sneak off into the kitchen and prepare his (frozen) waffles in peace. (And by peace, I mean without him standing on the other side of the baby gate and hurling objects at me.)

We haven’t been able to watch regular TV in his presence since. Even if it seems like he’s oblivious to the movie playing in the background, as soon as we hit ‘stop,’ he whips his head around and comes toddling over to us, chanting, "Caws? Caws? Caws?" Ad nauseum. He gets all cozy on the couch and then demands, "And car!" sending me on an egg hunt for certain cars around the house that he desperately needs to have in lap and I try to fulfill this desire as fast as possible, for fear that he might shrivel up and die. I give him his cars. "And juice!" Thus signals the start of the great juice cup hunt. "And bowl!" he commands, pointing to his bowl of pretzels with an angry finger. We do this every day, until he’s satisfied with the pile of goods burying him on the couch.

He won’t sleep with no less than four of his cars now. It’s a good thing my pajama pants are equipped with pockets, else I’d have had to make two trips getting him out of the crib this morning: one for him, one to retrieve his cars. Failure to do so will send him into a shrieking spell and real tears will flow freely. We have to stuff his backpack full of cars just to  get him to willingly leave the house with us now.

This morning, after the first viewing of "Cars," I lost it. I got all caught up in my pent up resentment to being a Pixar prisoner, and defiantly punched the buttons of the remote until something I wanted to watch filled the screen with a breath of fresh air. Then I promptly sat on the remote. He noticed. Oh boy did he notice. But I held my ground. Henry sat next to me and winced, waiting to see what Chooch’s move was going to be. He turned back and resumed play with his cars. I smirked, basking in the win.

But then something tragic happened: I got up from the couch, unearthing the remote. His eyes, full of car-lust, honed in on the site of the magical "Cars" stick, and he grabbed it. "Caws. Caws. Caws!!!" he droned on and on. Then he climbed up on the couch and sat between us on the pillows so he had a slight height advantage on us. He grabbed a fistful of Henry’s hair in one hand; I laughed too soon. He turned to me, glared, and took a fistful of my hair too, and angrily chanted, "Caws Caws Caws Caws."

He was still watching it when I left to go out to lunch with my friend Jess.

Nov 272007

Thursday, 11-15 and Friday, 11-16:

I had slight twinging on my left side. I was fairly certain it could be my kidney, but also considered a strained muscle. The pain was just a dull ache that fades into the background of my day, so I didn’t concern myself too much.

Saturday, 11-17:

When I came home from school, I started to get body aches so I sprawled out on the couch under a blanket and had Henry serve me Tylenol. Henry bitched that I was 5% sick, 95% dramatic, but by that night, I was nearly convulsing and couldn’t get warm no matter what I did. My teeth were chattering so hard that I was afraid they would chip. Henry bitched for me to call my doctor, but I just got new insurance last month and hadn’t had a chance to choose a doctor yet, so his bitching was for naught. Henry is MEAN when I’m sick.

Sunday, 11-18:

I had a fever of 103. I wanted to go to the ER, but Henry bitched again about calling my doctor (which I still didn’t have).

That night, the music wafting from Chooch’s monitor started talking to me. Maynard James Keenan was telling me to pull out my intestines and tie them in bows (A Perfect Circle will never sound the same to me again).

The CD in Chooch’s room also has a Club Ibiza remix of Bush’s “Letting the Cables Sleep,” a song that used to be quite capable of soothing me but under the spell of my fever had suddenly sounded like if vinegar and garlic and bile, straight from Satan’s saliva, solidified into a thorny-armored army of musical notes and began its cavalcade down my temporal lobe. I wanted to reach out and shut off the monitor but I couldn’t muster the energy.

Monday, 11-19:

I was sick. Sick, sick, sick. Fever. Henry bitched. My only meal was a small cup of mint chocolate chip ice cream which made me nauseated. That night, I hallucinated that I retrieved my imaginary $15 flea market shot gun from under my pillow and Frenched the barrel while finger-jobbing its trigger.

Tuesday, 11-20:

In the early AM, I called Henry and begged him to come home and take me to the hospital. He came home alright, but instead of taking me to the hospital, he found me a stupid doctor on Brookline Boulevard because it would only cost $10 instead of the $100 ER fee, but my appointment wasn’t for another 6 hours. I didn’t care about the extra money it would cost to go to the ER. I just wanted to get better and go back to work. Time is money and either way I was losing out on it.

The doctor’s office was next to a laundromat, and as soon as I walked in, I was barraged by a stench of Beef-a-Roni and vitamins. Some poop, too I think. There were watermarks on the ceiling, wallpaper was ripped from the walls near the floorboards, and the magazines catered only to the elderly patient bracket. The receptionist had a brassy hair helmet with fringed bangs and close-set, beady eyes. I didn’t like how forcefully she grabbed the clipboard from me.

A male nurse came and took my vitals. He had a creepy white handlebar moustache with blonde highlights and wore beige scrubs which made me uncomfortable. The bathroom where I gave my urine sample had tile ripped up from around the commode. I felt like I was in a Nicaraguan clinic and became afraid that Angelina Jolie would come in and try to adopt me.

My doctor was in his forties and very personable. He put me at ease and didn’t patronize me when I told him I was sure I had a kidney infection. He wholeheartedly agreed and, as he took my pulse, said that I was “very sick.” No shit, I felt like I was dying. I told him so, too. He laughed when I said I expected to be able to return  to work the next day.

Later on, I was home alone with Chooch while Henry went to pick up my prescriptions. Chooch kept beating on me and I was so sick and exhausted that I lost it and started wailing. It was a pitiful moment. Not really one to share with Kodak.

Wednesday, 11-21:

I couldn’t find any relief during Tuesday night. I was so tired and wanted to sleep but I had a searing pain in my head and my fever kept spiking. I called Henry into the bedroom (he had been banished to the couch for snoring) and gasped, “Look, I surrender. I cannot manage this pain. I’m dehydrated. I want to go to the fucking hospital.”

He was all, “Well, I don’t know how you’re going to get there….” and I growled, “Work it out!” He of course sat there stupidly, so I yelled at him  to call Janna, who arrived shortly around midnight and took me to St. Clair Hospital, where there was an apparent gnat outbreak.

After I registered (the nurse loudly asked my weight, but then whispered, “And when was your last period?”), Janna, my knotted hair, and I sat in the dingy waiting room on hard teal chairs. Some bitch we went to high school with walked by with her butch-gait and I scowled. Then I panicked that she would fuck with my chart and I would wind up getting chemo or a mastectomy.

When I finally got a room, a nurse came in and asked me what was causing me the most pain. “My head!” I whined. “You have a kidney infection, but your HEAD is giving you the most pain?” she asked in disbelief. Oh lady, if you only knew. It felt like an irate Roman god had stuck tuning rods in hellfire and then pierced both of my temples with them until the formed crosses behind my eyes, at which point seventy-three bolts of lightning were summoned to strike while a Molotov cocktail made from bleach, John Candy’s stomach acid, Black widow venom, BTK’s semen and Flava Flav’s athletes foot exploded in the back of my head, the after effect of which was like being persistently bitten all over my brain by a swarm of fire ants. This would happen over and over, like Groundhog Day. Except it was every hour. So Groundhog Hour, I guess.

It also didn’t help that I was lying on a headful of knots on top of more knots, sucking the dicks of other knots. Janna chose our hospital quiet time to request a story. I’m sorry Janna, but this IV in my arm is kind of distracting me from spinning yarns. Why don’t you pull out that book in your purse? I hear those book thingies have lots of stories.

I was released at 5am, but not before the ER doctor said, “You know, generally when people have kidney infections like yours, they’re admitted.” Tell  that to my boyfriend, doctor. I tried to sleep when I got home, but my headache was still there. In fact, by late morning it was at its peak. Henry called the doctor and had my prescription switched from Cipro, because as it turns out, we’re just not meant to be friends. He also called in a prescription for a pain reliever, so I was ready to get stuffed by dinner time.

My mom never called to see how I was doing.