My Sentimental Attachment to IKEA

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Most of the defining moments in my early life are centered around my childhood home, the neighborhood I grew up in, and the schools I attended.  As I entered my 20’s, other influences had an impact on what choices I made as I grew older and more independent.  Places that I worked, the friends I hung out with, and how much money I had in my bank account determined my life path moving forward.

And what little money I had.  I bought a car at 17–with cash.  Probably the dumbest $2,406 spent in the history of Larry Kress.  I grew up in the city limits of Pittsburgh.  The buses ran every 10 minutes.  My high school job was within walking distance of my house.  The city’s junior college I attended had a campus on a bus line.  Me at 17 thought “in the moment” instead of thinking “big picture”.  I also spent a lot of money on my high school girlfriend–which was overall a good experience, but I probably should have saved the money for future endeavors.

As I poured money into a car I really didn’t need, and as I poured money into buying items for my girlfriend, I developed the urge to move out on my own.  Being an introvert, I really didn’t want to have a roommate.  I understood that living with two or three people would make it easier pay the bills, but I knew it would not allow for me to have my own space to decompress.  Having four other family members in a three-story house was chaos, so I couldn’t imagine living with a few people within a two or three bedroom apartment.  Even though I knew I wanted to move out of my parents’ house at 19, I didn’t have the finances to make it happen–especially if I would rent without roommates.

At 22, I started to save up a little bit of money.  It was enough to provide three or four months of “rainy day money” if I decided to get my own apartment.  I was working full-time, so as long as I had a steady paycheck coming in, I knew this was my chance to finally have my own space to be.

PLANNING MY ESCAPE

My parents didn’t think I could make it on my own.  I was determined to make it work for my own sanity, not because I wanted to prove them wrong.  I started crafting my plan to move out by creating space in their basement for boxes and small household items.  As I started to build my neat pile of goods to be placed in my car one day, I had a money-saving thought: Instead of paying for a moving van and furniture deliveries, I should go to IKEA and find inexpensive furniture that I could build on my own.  I could easily fit the flat boxes in my car when moving day finally arrived.

To this day, IKEA has one Pittsburgh location.  It is in the West Hills, and has been there for 30 years.  In the fall of 1998, I spent many evening hours making the 15-mile drive from central Pittsburgh out to Robinson Towne Centre.  Each trip, I would buy a few big, flat boxes of furniture, slide them into my 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and head back to Pittsburgh.   Eventually, the basement back home had many neatly-stacked cardboard boxes tucked into a small corner.  IKEA provided me with efficient furniture at a reasonable price, and I didn’t have to worry about delivery fees; I could now build my apartment furniture on my own.

After sharing my strategy for independence with my friend Dave, he volunteered his time to help me on moving day.  He borrowed his dad’s Ford F-150, and between my car and the truck, we smashed everything into ONE TRIP.  I had acquired two big living room chairs, three lamps, clothes, kitchenware, one TV stand, one TV, a coffee table, a 5-piece dining set, and two end tables.  The only two items I had to have delivered was a new sofa sleeper and a new bed.

At this time 21 years ago, I was building my IKEA furniture while listening to my CD’s, and enjoying my very own place.  It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life; a chapter that lasted 6 1/2 years, full of many memorable moments and its share of forgettable moments as well.

A NEW CHAPTER, SAME IKEA

The picture in the beginning of this post was taken by me at the very same IKEA I used to go to all those years ago.  This is the “IKEA Family” section of the store as seen in 2019.  My wife and I took our 6-year-old son out to IKEA for the first time.  It was only my third visit back there over the last 14 years, because we have always lived more than 30 miles away from the store.  This time around, we were there for our son.  We purchased a kiddie desk, a small chair, a standing two-sided blackboard/whiteboard, and a wall shelf for organizing his art supplies.  The familiar smells of the 2nd floor café and the downstairs warehouse drew me back to a time in my life when I was starting my journey into adulthood.  The careful stacking of furniture boxes into our SUV took me back to my evening drives to this very same place in the fall of 1998.

Today, my son sits at his desk in his bedroom, creating his own artwork and enjoying his new space.  His room was once just a place for sleeping; a place with numerous stuffed animals and random toys that he asked us to take downstairs into the family room.  He can’t convey his feelings about feng shui yet, but based on his behavior, my son’s room is now a peaceful and creative place for him.  A new chapter of his life is beginning, and a shopping trip to IKEA played a part in his transformation.

THE NEXT CHAPTER AWAITS

If The Fates allow, my son will have many more chapters in his life story.  When it is time for him to leave our house and find his independence, perhaps a shopping trip to IKEA will be involved.  Hopefully, my wife and I will be here to support him along the way.

And if he gets the opportunity to listen to his father’s “old man stories” about his broken-down high school car, and his sometimes broken relationship with his high school girlfriend, he’ll have a lot more money to start this chapter sooner than his father did.

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After buying new furniture over the years, I have one item left from my IKEA purchases in 1998: A now-wobbly chair from my 5-piece dining set.  We use it as an office chair, and my son sits on it when he plays video games with me.  It’s just a chair, but knowing when/why I bought it–combined with my son sitting in it, reminds me how far my own life story has progressed.

 

 

My Unrelenting Love for Presque Isle’s Beach 11

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In the summer of 1982, my mom and dad wanted to take the family on a short road trip, but they weren’t exactly sure where to go.  At this time, I was 6-years-old, my brother Dan was 4, and my brother Greg wasn’t born yet.  Up until this point, we always enjoyed going to amusement parks around the greater Pittsburgh area, but my parents wanted us to experience a beach environment that offered plenty of activities for a couple of rambunctious little boys.

One day at work, my dad was explaining his vacation dilemma to a few co-workers.  One of the listeners was his supervisor Earl.  Earl told my dad to take the family up to Presque Isle State Park along the shores of Lake Erie for a few days.  He mentioned how many different activities the park had to offer, and he also gave him some ideas on what to do in the city of Erie, Pennsylvania.

Earl went into detail about the different beaches that were at Presque Isle, but he was adamant we visited Beach 11 when we arrived there.  He explained that Beach 11 was on the inlet side of Presque Isle, which didn’t produce waves that could potentally injure little kids.  Beach 11 had lifeguards on duty during posted beach hours, and all of the swimmers had to stay close to shore–in an area where the water depth stayed below five feet.

Between 1982 and 1984, we spent one weekend in Erie as a family.  Before Erie had many of the corporate-owned hotels that are there today, I remember arriving there and staying at different locally-owned motels.  The one motel that remains from my early visits to Erie is the Flamingo Motel, which is now the Steelhead Inn on West 12th Street.  It was a short drive from the beaches, and it was near a 36-hole minature golf course we frequented every time the sun went down.  I know it was around the motel, because I still remember all of the airplanes coming and going from the nearby airport.

Beach 11 in the early 1980’s looked the same as it does now.  The size of the beach, the restrooms, the concession stand, and the huge grass/gravel parking lot haven’t changed that much over time.  My brother and I really enjoyed our stay there.  We swam in the lake, built sandcastles in the sand, made our parents take us to the restroom 26 times, and watched all of the different boats pass by along the inlet.  Even though my family started going to other destinations for our vacation time, I always remembered how much fun I had in Erie.  Beach 11 might not be situated next to the ocean or some glamourous resort, but to a child, a beach is a beach.

MY GROWN-UP RETURN TO BEACH 11

In May 2011, my wife wanted to take a weekend trip up to Lake Erie wine country.  We stayed in the town of North East, Pennsylvania, which is…wait for it–northeast of central Erie.  The North East area had plenty of wineries to visit, and after we collected our haul of wine bottles to take back to Pittsburgh, we decided to check out downtown Erie and Presque Isle.

I told my wife about coming to Beach 11 as a boy, so it was our first destination when we got into town.  When I made the right turn onto Coast Guard Road, it was like I was transported back to 1982.  All of the memories came back to me from that time long ago.  We parked in a grassy spot in the lot, walked up to the beach and ventured out into the sand.  The beach had all of its sand this particular year, but it wasn’t ready for the summer season yet.  There were many large tree branches scattered throughout the water and on shore, and the high water line from the recent spring thaw was still evident halfway back from the water.  The smells, the sights, and the sounds were the same as I remembered.  It was wonderful.

We returned to Erie in late 2012 with a few friends to attend North East’s wine festival.  Even though our friends weren’t as enthused to check out a beach on a mild autumn day, I was steadfast in my journey to say hello to my childhood friend.  My wife and I were planning on having at least one child in the near future, and I wasn’t sure when the next time I would be back at Presque Isle.  Our grown-up winery trips were coming to a temporary end, and my sister-in-law goes on vacation to destinations in Florida, Maryland, and New Jersey.  Would we be vacationing with her family once we had a child of our own?

MY SON’S LOVE OF BEACH 11

My wife and I welcomed a son in 2013, and during the summer of 2016, we decided to take him up to Erie for a few days.  We wanted him to experience playing in sand by the water, instead of a cramped sandbox in the backyard of our house.

Upon arriving at Beach 11, it was apparent that our little boy fell in love with the place from the minute he stepped onto the sand.  He kicked around in the water, played in the sand, laughed at the mischievous seagulls, and looked upon the lifeguards in awe when they blew their whistles.  He enjoyed it so much, that we came back for several hours the next day.  I was thrilled that I had the opportunity to show my son a place that was such a pleasant memory from my childhood several decades ago.

Since our first trip as a family in 2016, we have gone back to Erie one weekend every year for the last 4 years.  The torrential rains of 2018 and 2019 have been rough on the beaches of Presque Isle, but we still enjoyed our time there.  In 2019, the algae blooms spared Beach 11, but there was a high amount of seaweed in the water.  Flooding caused an E. coli advisory in 2018, but there were still hundreds of people enjoying the hot July temperatures while swimming in the water.  Hopefully, Mother Nature will be kinder to Presque Isle in 2020, and give engineers the opportunity to repair the beaches back to their 2017 appearance–their normal appearance.

THE PLEASANT SURPRISES OF JULY ON PRESQUE ISLE

In July 2018 and July 2019, we accidentally encountered two annual Erie events that provided fun and discovery for my son and my nephew, who came along with us the last two years.

In 2018, we booked our trip during the same weekend as Presque Isle Days, a sponsored event that celebrates all of the fun activities Presque Isle has to offer.  On our second day at Beach 11 that year, we arrived around 4 p.m. on a sunny Saturday afternoon.  When we drove through the entrance of the park, the enormous amount of car traffic was noticeable.  Signs throughout the park displayed the activities and their locations during the weekend.  A large police presence blanketed the park, providing traffic assistance and enforcing illegal parking violations.

I was fearing when we got to Beach 11, the parking area and the beach would be completely full.  To my relief, it was not.  The empty fields near the Beach 11 entrance–an area that I had never seen a vehicle parked in, easily had 100 cars parked in it.  Since we arrived at dinner time, many cars that were parked in the main parking area were leaving.  After we parked in our usual spot, we noticed an area near the beach with large inflatable slides for children, tents set up with dozens of picnic tables inside, about fifteen food trucks with various dinner and dessert options, and about fifteen booths dedicated to crafts and other businesses from the Erie area.

A local radio station set up on the back of Beach 11 in the shade, playing music and setting up games for beachgoers with the chance to win prizes.  The boys really loved the atmosphere; playing on the beach until 6 p.m., then going over to see what the party in the parking lot had to offer.  We ate food, checked out the slides, bought some shave ice, and stayed until the activities closed at 8 p.m. (The park closes at sundown, so the vendors needed time to close up and leave the park before 9 p.m.).  It was an unexpected good time, and I recommend anybody with children under 11 to experience this event.

In 2019, we booked our trip during the same weekend of the final year of Roar on the Shore, which was the largest motorcycle rally in the region.  I was again fearing a traffic nightmare around Erie, but the city and the rally organizers couldn’t come to an agreement on a venue.  So the rally moved outside of town to Lake Erie Speedway, which apparently didn’t go very well.  In November 2019, rally officials announced there will be no rally in 2020.

Many bikers stayed at our hotel, parking their bikes under the roof at the front entrance.  The boys admired the different colors and styles of the motorcycles that were neatly lined up at all hours of the day.  The riders we encountered were all friendly, and traveled around Erie in groups from as little as three to as many as fifty.  Many businesses we went to were very welcoming of the bikers, and we benefitted from the food and drink specials “geared” toward them!

During our time at Presque Isle, the boys enjoyed watching the bikes growl around the park, and some of the bikers were at Beach 11 with us one afternoon.  They talked about how they missed having their rally in downtown Erie, and were hoping that they could come back to Perry Square one day.  Hopefully the much smaller motorcycle rally, Gears & Grub will gain some momentum next year.  They were in Perry Square in 2019 instead of Roar on the Shore, and it didn’t cause any traffic nightmares.

MY IMMORTAL MEMORIES OF A FRAGILE PLACE

I have enjoyed my time at Presque Isle State Park, and I am blessed to have my son experience a great time at the same beach I loved so many years ago.  Hopefully in the future, a combination of government and non-profit organization leadership will continue to preserve this wonderful place.  Without essential maintenance each year, Presque Isle will become an island again, and an important asset to wildlife, tourism, and recreation for Northwest Pennsylvania will be lost.

It’s too cool of a place for this to happen.

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I obtained information for this post through the websites Erie News Now, GoErie, Wikipedia, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

My family visited other fun places in Erie.  Two other places that I recommend for kids are the children’s museum (called the expERIEnce Children’s Museum), and the Erie Zoo.  The children’s museum is ideal for kids under 8, while the zoo is ideal for kids under 108.

I earn 27% less than my 2015 salary–and I couldn’t be happier.

October 16, 2015 was supposed to be one of the worst days of my life.

It was a Friday–another typical day working in a warehouse for a small health care company in Pittsburgh.  I started working there in 2010, not long after my wife and I got married.  We rented a townhouse at the time, and we were saving our money for a down payment on a house.  The hours were wonderful:  7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, with occasional overtime when approved by management.  I received three weeks vacation immediately upon hire with two paid sick days.

The pay was good and it was about the same as some of my previous employers.  During the late-aughts, my wife went back to school to receive her doctorate in physical therapy.  We moved a few times during her time at school, which forced me to find different work each time we moved.  Before landing this warehouse position, I worked a variety of jobs just to pay the bills:  A campus safety officer at a college, a kitchen fire suppression system installer/repair person, a mortgage processor, a desk clerk at a vehicle impound lot, and at a freight brokerage.  The three years of nomadic living we dedicated ourselves to did not allow me to cement any type of longstanding promotion.  At every place I worked, I started at an entry-level position and ended each job in the exact same role.  Now that we were back in Pittsburgh, I wanted to establish some career stability while my wife took on her first physical therapy job out of school.

The job itself was very predictable and monotonous.  I had a cubicle in the office area when I had to do purchasing work, receive inventory into a computer application, manage e-mail, and when I had to–interact with branch offices.  The warehouse area–where I spent the majority of my time, was loud and dirty.  All day long, I would check in off-the-shelf merchandise and items for patients, and send out all items requested by the branch offices.

FAMILY FIRST

Shortly after my wife and I got settled back in Pittsburgh, our lives started to change dramatically.  In 2011, we bought a house.  In 2013, our son was born.  She was making good money, and I had a steady job for the first time in almost ten years.  We didn’t have to worry about daycare during our son’s first year.  My mother-in-law offered to watch our son five days a week, allowing us to keep him in a safe and trusted environment while we continued to work our usual routine.  I usually picked our son up at the end of my shift, but when I had to stay late, my wife would pick him up about an hour later than normal.  It was a perfect arrangement during his first year with us, and it all abruptly came to a crashing end on November 17, 2014, when my company decided to abandon the user-friendly inventory system (that was customized for the business), and replace it with a poorly developed integrated inventory/billing system.

Work became difficult, time-consuming and very stressful.  Incoming orders that took one to two hours to check in on a daily basis became three to four hour jobs.  The purchasing aspect of the job also became nearly impossible, resulting in a cost-of-goods increase of 17%.  Lag time in the new system resulted in many rush orders to meet deadlines, which caused our shipping costs to skyrocket.

Before we had our son, working late without any prior notice wasn’t a problem.  Most of the time, I would only have to work an extra hour or two to get caught up during a spike in order demand.  But going into 2015, working every single day after 3:30 was not an option anymore.  I was grateful that my mother-in-law was watching him for free, and I didn’t want to abuse the care she provided to us.  I needed to leave at 3:30, and on many occasions during my last year in the warehouse, my director demanded I had to stay.  Almost every time this request was made, I refused, and left for the day.

In early 2015, our son started going to daycare a few days a week.  Since he is an only child, we wanted him to be around other kids his age so he could learn how to socialize with them.  As his attendance increased at daycare, my time at work decreased.  It didn’t matter what chaos was taking place in the warehouse–when 3:30 came on the clock, I was off to pick up my son from daycare.  My mindset was this:  It wasn’t my fault that the company took out a perfectly suitable computer application and replaced it with a poor product.  I could have taken up residence there, and nothing was going to get better.  Bringing the stress home wasn’t going to do any good, and I wanted to see my son as soon as possible.

YOU CAN’T SPELL STABILITY WITHOUT ‘STAB’

Inevitably, my time as a “warehouse guy” was coming to an end.  My plan was to work through 2015 and into the first few months of 2016.  Knowing from past experience, finding work around the Christmas holiday season was very tough compared to the first six months of the calendar year.  Many of my previous employers would hold off hiring new staff until the beginning of the fiscal year, which was usually January 1, June 1 or July 1 (Schools that I’ve worked for close out/start up their financial records during the summer semester).  I felt that if I subjected myself to eleven months of this working hell, another three months wouldn’t kill me.

But, my director had other plans.

On that fateful Friday afternoon on October 16, 2015, my director sat me down in the conference room, explained to me that, “it wasn’t working out”, and said they were, “letting me go”.

Five years.  I did the same job for five years.  During the first four years, I received good (or great!) reviews for my work.  After the computer application change–the absolute reason for my production slowdown, my work had become unacceptable.  I was given two weeks severance pay and was paid the one week of vacation that I never had the chance to enjoy.

For about two seconds after hearing the news that I was unemployed, I had a panic attack.  It felt like somebody took a knife and ripped my stomach open.  As fast as that feeling came on, it went away after taking a deep breath.  I gathered my belongings, shook my director’s hand, and left.  When leaving the facility, I remember nodding my head and saying to him, “I’ll be okay.”  This of course was a lie–the place that granted me job stability just took away my job stability.  I had a gut feeling that finding a new job that worked around my son’s schedule was going to be impossible.

YOU CAN’T SPELL IMPROBABLE WITHOUT ‘ABLE’

Immediately after being terminated, I started receiving unemployment compensation.  During this time, there were many mind-numbing days of searching for work while other days were filled with joy.  The joy was caused by my newfound ability to watch my two-year-old son more often than I had been able to before my job loss.  Since I was home, my mother-in-law didn’t have to watch him on his non-daycare days.

During the colder months, my son and I stayed home most of the time.  If we ventured out of the house, I would take him to the local mall to run around in the children’s play area.  In the warmer months, we would take trips to the local park, where he insisted that I push him on the swings for sometimes hours at a time.  If I remember correctly, I watched him for a full day on 26 occasions during my time off.  26 wonderful days I would have never had if I was working full-time.  Our finances suffered, our bank account was becoming empty, but my heart was full.

Six months passed, my unemployment benefits ran out, and I couldn’t find a full-time job that had the same hours as my old job.  I started checking into full-time seasonal summer jobs, with the intent of getting at least some money back into the household.  On a local college website, I noticed they were hiring “Student Summer Help” for their buildings and grounds department.  The pay was terrible, but the hours were exactly the same as my old job.  Even though I wasn’t a student, I applied for the job.  In my cover letter, I stated I was looking for employment between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to work around family obligations, and that I believed I could easily run the large tractors and dump trucks once I was shown how to operate them.

Within thirty minutes, the assistant director of facilities contacted me and set up an interview.  He mentioned that a full-time groundskeeper just submitted his resignation and wanted me to re-apply for his spot, which I did.  My interview went well, I accepted the full-time position, and I started the following week.

Three years later, and I am still at the same place.  Despite the low pay and the unenviable task of doing snow removal, the job provides five weeks paid time off along with eight sick days.  During my son’s early years, I used dozens of these days to stay home with him when he was sick, or when his daycare was closed.  Staying with this groundskeeper position has resulted in a tremendous amount of monetary losses for myself and my wife, but the amount of time gained with my son in his preschool years is priceless.  I see him every day–and if he needs me to be with him all day, I have the ability to meet those needs.

INTO THE UNKNOWN

Usually with two working adults who do not receive help from a relative, neighborhood friend, or a nanny, one of the parents makes sacrifices in order for the other to sustain a career.  In my case, my wife has the career, earns a very good salary, and I make the necessary sacrifices to make sure our son has someone available to him at all times.

Our son will start kindergarten soon.  One of us will have to get him onto the school bus, and one of us will have to be there when the school bus brings him home.  My wife usually works somewhere between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., so she can make sure he gets to school.  I will have to be at the bus stop by 3:30 p.m., and my current job does not guarantee that I will get there in time, even if I left at 3:00 p.m.  We know our son will not want to go to the after school program that is offered at a different daycare than the one he has known since he was fifteen months old.  We do not want him to go to the after school daycare, because we do not trust the people in charge of the facility (my wife went for a tour a few years ago and despised the place).

Including part-time and seasonal jobs, my next place of employment will be my 24th.  Adaptability has always been my strongest attribute.  A new environment will once again commence, another basic paycheck will be cashed, and humility will quell the burning ego inside me.

I know I can lead.  I know I can innovate.  But right now, I know my son needs me to be in his life.  Right now, the title of “Dad” is more important than the title of “Senior Manager” or “Director”.  There are many talented, capable parents all around the world that have made the same choice that I have; parents that hold strong to the belief that time spent with their children is more important than time away at the office.

And this belief…is a lot of work.

 

 

 

 

 

The Moderate Party of the United States

In 21st Century America, government and its citizens have become more polarized than ever before.  A proverbial line in the sand has been drawn, and people all across the country have chosen their side.  The “gray area” has become more “black and white”.  Choose an allegiance, or be cast out.  Liberal or conservative?  Reform or status quo?  Revert or broaden?

Contrary to what is projected on television, social media and the many other channels of communication, there are citizens among us that support LGBTQ rights while really enjoying Chick-fil-A.  Citizens that support gun rights that don’t necessarily have a cache of weapons in their house.  People that believe in America, but are alienated by the incessant bombardment of childish arguing by both groups of people that are divided by the line in the sand.

A growing fraction of people on both sides of the line have had enough of the current rhetoric that doesn’t represent their ideology.  All of the distraught from both sides are taking their proverbial ball, and going home to start anew.  The Moderate Party is born.

THE LOGO–THE OWL

 

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This is just a free-hand sketch.  It doesn’t have to look like Richard Nixon.

Usually the most important attribute of a political party revolves around its ideology.  Since Moderates have varying stances on a variety of public policies, a defined ideology would only provide for an excellent oxymoron.  There are other ways for Moderates to develop an identity, and a fun way of displaying their affiliation would be with an animal, symbolically representing a given ideology.  Democrats have the donkey, Republicans have the elephant and Libertarians have the porcupine.  According to me, Moderates should adopt the owl.  Since Thomas Nast (1840–1902) isn’t around to provide a drawing, I decided to draw the Moderate Party logo myself…poorly.

So…why the owl?

Owls have excellent vision.  Owls have excellent hearing.  Owls are found in most regions of the world.  Owls are symbols of wisdom in modern Western culture.  These are four noble reasons why the owl would be an excellent choice to represent the Moderate Party.  A fifth reason for the owl is not noble but hilarious, and something I have experience with from looking out into my backyard in the middle of the night:  Owls love to perch on fences.

Moderate voters are usually defined as a group of people that see both sides of a policy, so it would be appropriate to be symbolically represented by an animal that sees, “both sides of the fence”.  Also, the addition of the owl logo will cement the Moderate Party as a legitimate organization of voters and government officials.  To prove my point, look no further than the Green Party.  They do not have a symbolic animal representing their ideology, and nobody really takes their political party seriously.  Of course I’m just kidding Green Party, but not really.

THE COLOR PURPLE

On television, online, in newspapers and on political advertisements, the major American political parties are usually represented by the same colors.  Democrats are blue, Republicans are red, Libertarians are yellow, and (if anybody notices) the Green Party is shown as…green!

If Moderates are always portrayed to be some hybrid mix of Democrats and Republicans, then it would only be appropriate to be represented by the color purple.  The only un-American part about the color purple is that it has always been associated with being the color of kings and queens.  I’m sure trolls on social media would try to stir up some insane conspiracy theory that Moderates will turn the United States back into a monarchy based on the color they identify with.  I’m sure 99% of the population wouldn’t read too far into the color choice.  Every American should know we were founded on renouncing the English crown, and at the same time knowing that we love Burger King a little too much.

POTENTIAL CAMPAIGN SLOGANS FOR THE PRESIDENCY

When the time comes for someone to run for President on the Moderate Party ticket, it will probably be assumed that the Moderate candidate will reveal an ideology that sometimes leans liberal and at other times more conservative.  Campaigns, along with their accompanying slogans, will predictably be safe and appealing to a wide audience.

A vast array of presidential slogans have been virtually the same over the years, and some can be updated to reflect the issues that voters will potentially be focused on in 2020.

A slogan that could cater to liberals and conservatives:

Herbert Hoover (1928) — “A Chicken in Every Pot and a Car in Every Garage.”

Modern Version — “Legalization of Pot and Two Guns in Every Garage.”

A candidate/incumbent at some level of government needs to use this slogan simply for the media buzz it would provide.

A slogan that calls for change, but acknowledging that not everything in America is bad:

James Cox (1920) — “Peace.  Progress.  Prosperity.”

Modern Version — “Reform.  Reliance.  Responsibility.”

A slogan that reflects a changing America heading further into the 21st Century:

Al Gore (2000) — “Leadership for the New Millennium.”

Modern Version — “Leadership for the Modern America.”

Or perhaps a new creative slogan that acknowledges liberals and conservatives:

“The Only Candidate LEFT to Make the RIGHT Decisions for America.”

This slogan proves that marketing firms, consultants and advertising agencies do not have to be hired and be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to come up with a clever slogan.  If anybody uses this one and a multi-million dollar company claims this as their own genius, we the people need to cry shenanigans.

MODERATES ARE GARNERING ATTENTION

I’m old enough to remember political humor.  Now in America, (unfortunately) political humor is an oxymoron.  Both groups divided by the line in the sand constantly shout across the line at each other, pushing agendas, ideals and values on people that have completely different interpretations of what is important to humankind.

The United States of America.  It sounds so regal, so organized.  Truthfully, we have had many decades in our nation’s history where we fought against each other.  We don’t have to go far back in time to witness our own in-fighting.  Vietnam.  The 1968 Race Riots. The Civil Rights Movement.  Prohibition.  Polarizing times in our nation’s history, all of which took place in the last 100 years.

***

The owl is perched on a fence at night.  On one side, a donkey is kicking the fence with its hind legs, belting out a steady “HEE HAW!!!”.  On the other side, an elephant is trumpeting its own powerful sound, flapping its ears and stomping around.  Meanwhile, a porcupine walks quietly on the ground among the chaos, going back-and-forth between sides of the fence through a small hole in the bottom.  It is a witness to the commotion, but takes a “Laissez-faire” approach when navigating the situation.

Suddenly, a light comes on.  It is shining from the back of a neighboring house.  A man opens a back door to the house, takes a few steps outside, and faces in the direction of the animals.

“WILL ALL OF YOU SHUT THE HELL UP!!??!! IT IS THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT!!!  WE ARE ALL TRYING TO SAVE OUR ENERGY FOR THE NEXT DAY!!!  I SUGGEST ALL OF YOU HEED MY ADVICE!!!”

The man slams the door behind him, the lights go out in the house, and quiet is abound.  The elephant, still stunned at what just happened, looks at the owl on the fence.

“Wow!  I guess he does have a point.  I’m going to bed.  Who was that guy anyway?”

Baffled, the owl keeps his eyes on the house while replying to the elephant.

“I don’t know.  But he looked a lot like Ralph Nader.”

Roller Skating With Sheila

On a warm autumn day in 1983, I was running around playing with my fellow second grade classmates during recess at my Roman Catholic elementary school.  The light jacket that I wore to school in the morning was tied around my waist while I dodged would-be grabbers and ran toward the end zone during a game of tag football.  The recess bell soon rang to end our outside time, and all of the students lined up so the parent playground volunteers could steer us back inside the school like a herd of cattle coming back in from the fields.  While I stood in line awaiting my turn to start heading back up the hill to school, a girl in my class grabbed my hand.  Her name was Sheila, and as we begun our journey back to school, she turned to me and declared that I was now her boyfriend.

Being an 8-year-old at the time, I didn’t quite know what being a boyfriend meant, but what I did know was this was my very first girl friend outside of my neighborhood block.  Sheila never spoke more than ten words to me in kindergarten and first grade, so it was quite a surprise that she thought highly of me.  We exchanged phone numbers at the end of the day and I resumed my usual routine with my friends as we walked back home.

For the next two weeks, Sheila and I talked on the phone, held hands at school and even sat next to each other in church.  My parents were amused at our arrangement and they kept our time on the phone to a minimum.  I was fine with how things were going between Sheila and I, but about two weeks in, I knew my life was going in the wrong direction.

My grades started to suffer.  I started alienating my friends.  I didn’t want to talk on the phone as long as I did in those first few days.  The delicate balance of my second grade life was abruptly knocked into disarray and I knew if I didn’t end the relationship soon, things would continuously get worse.  Appropriately, the big “break-up” came at a very grown up place:  The Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh.

PROBLEMS AT HOGWARTS

Before Harry Potter came into existence, The Cathedral of Learning was Hogwarts.  The interior looks like the movies could have been filmed there.  My second grade class was there on a field trip to tour the international rooms that are still in the building to this day.

As my class weaved our way through the various ethnic-themed classrooms, Sheila and I held hands the entire time and sat next to each other…while holding hands.  After about an hour of this, the boys in our class started to give me a hard time over our behavior while the girls gave Sheila similar treatment.  Eventually, I saw how much fun the boys were having without me, so I broke away from Sheila, telling her that I didn’t want to be her boyfriend anymore.  She became mad at me, and barely spoke to me the rest of our second grade year together.

Third grade came along, and Sheila barely spoke to me.  Fourth grade arrived, and any type of interaction between us was brief and often forced upon us due to the arrival of more group projects.  The awkward few weeks we had together in 1983 was fading out of my memory, and just as I was about to accept that Sheila would never be my friend again, something unexpectedly happened.

THE COUPLES SKATE

Toward the end of my fourth grade year, my class along with the third grade class took a field trip together.  I cannot remember where we went for the first half of the day, but I do remember where we went after lunch.  The old Bethel Roller Rink in Bethel Park was closing their doors for good in the near future, and my teacher wanted us to experience the place before it went away.  I never roller skated before, so I was curious how I would fare compared to my classmates who had skated prior to our visit.

I kept my balance well, and only pushed off on my right skate for speed.  I probably looked ridiculous, but I was able to turn and keep a respectable pace around the floor.  Other kids noticed I was doing better than most of the beginners, including Sheila.  Toward the end of the session, the music slowed, and it was announced that the last two skates were going to be “couples skates” only.

As I pushed off on my right skate to exit the floor, I was suddenly grabbed by Sheila.  She wanted me to be her partner for the couples skate.  Stunned, I agreed, and she dragged me around the rink with her effortless form, holding my hand as I pushed off on my right skate to keep up with her.  When I held her hand that day, it didn’t feel burdensome.  I felt comfortable, and it was the first time I experienced a loving, genuine moment with a girl.  We skated those two songs while many of my friends watched from the benches, and afterwards I voluntarily sat next to her on the bus on the way back to school.

When we got back to school, Sheila and I said our goodbyes to each other, and went our separate ways.  Things between us suddenly returned to normal.  We didn’t talk to each other every day at school and we did not talk to each other outside of school.  What did change was our comfort level with each other.  We couldn’t comprehend our connection to each other at such a young age, but we both knew we had one when we were together.

THE FINAL MOMENTS OF US

Fifth, sixth and seventh grade carried on just as third and fourth grade did.  We spoke to each other, but we really didn’t get together outside of school.  We got along fine during those years, but Sheila stayed with her girl friends and I hung out with my boy friends.  When seventh grade came to an end, our relationship with each other was predictable and very distant.

Summer came along, and our annual church festival was just up the street from Sheila’s house.  I was working there as a stock boy moving prizes from a house we were using as storage to the vendor booths.  Since I was there every day of the festival, I spent time with Sheila four consecutive evenings.  I was not supposed to play games, but I played games to win stuffed animals for Sheila.  I was not supposed to get on the rides, but I remember riding the Ferris wheel with Sheila.  We were a couple again–a little older and a little more aware of what type of relationship we were portraying to our friends and family.

We talked on the phone for a few weeks after the festival, saw each other one day with a group of friends, and then, nothing.  We went back to our former ways of just seeing each other in school while passing through the hallways.  We never expressed any negative words to each other, we just both decided to spend our time with other people.

In eighth grade, I chased other girls around…poorly.  We went to high school together, but Sheila joined a cult, otherwise known as band.  The band had class together, ate together, practiced together and traveled together.  In four years of high school, I probably spoke to Sheila ten times.  We were going in different directions since grade school, and we never spoke to each other after the age of eighteen.

REMEMBERING AND RECONNECTING

Today, I do not have many friends.  There are many reasons and excuses I can give for this outcome, but at age 42, I have bigger life concerns involving family and work that take precedence over gaining new friendships and mending old ones.  I miss my good friends, and when I do see them, I cherish the time we have together.  I might not see them for years, but I want them to know that they were an important part of my early life, and I still want them to be a part of my life despite our ever-growing distractions of adulthood.

Sheila taught me early on that people can be friends despite years of separation.  We sat next to each other in class for years, but we were miles apart.  In the twelve years that I knew Shelia, we rarely spoke to one another.  But for about one month and one day in that time frame, I was her boyfriend and she was my girlfriend, even if we didn’t know what that really meant.

 

 

Pittsburgh’s Green Valley Golf Course: A ghost in the middle of progress

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When my late father first brought me to Green Valley Golf Course in 1987, there were a few homes near Green Valley’s white barn along Lowries Run Road and nothing else.  Over the next 16 years, a major highway, office buildings, shopping centers and hundreds of new homes were constructed while Green Valley remained the same.

And then one day, in the fall of 2003, Green Valley closed for good.  The parking lot and house across the street from the barn were razed and a hillside of dirt 150 feet high replaced them.  Mount Nebo Pointe shopping center was created high above the dirt.  Roads were widened, traffic signals emerged and the land Green Valley sat on was purchased by Allegheny General Hospital (AGH).  Everyone anticipated a suburban medical building to be constructed–a suburban setting for the hospital on Pittsburgh’s North Side.

It’s now 2018.  The planned medical tower was never built, even though AGH still owns the property.  Overgrown fields of grass provide wildlife and all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts an outdoor playground among the ever-increasing traffic coming and going near Interstate 279.  The young and the newcomers to Pittsburgh drive by the white barn today and probably assume it is abandoned farmland.  Green Valley Golf Course was simple and dangerous, and out of all of the courses I golfed in my youth, it was my favorite.

“A VALLEY OF NIGHTMARES”

I remember longtime Pittsburgh golf writer Gerry Dulac reviewing Green Valley in the early 1990’s.  His review was very accurate and gave the course 1.5 out of 4 stars.  The headline for his review read, “Greens are nice, but the rest is a valley of nightmares”.  It did not have established fairways so everything was either low-cut rough, sand or the awesome postage stamp greens that were maintained as well as any other 3 or 4 star golf course.  The nine holes were smashed together on about 90 acres of the property and the fairways and greens ran parallel to each other in many situations.  There were large trees between Lowries Run Road and Green Valley before the road was widened after the course closure.  Despite the natural barrier to keep golf balls from hitting passing cars, players found a way to smash their balls through the trees, denting vehicles and breaking windows.

Despite the quality of the course being sub-par, it was a very popular place to play golf.  The lack of public courses in the North Hills of Pittsburgh contributed to its appeal, but it also had qualities that two nearby nine-hole courses lacked.  The now-closed Franklin Park Golf Course had terribly small greens, and Clover Hill Golf Course (which is still open) is arguably the shortest nine-hole course in the United States.  Green Valley had short par 4’s, but two long par 5’s (480 and 472 yards).  The course variety and the nice putting greens kept my family coming back, and it was short enough where most people walked the course.

LEARNING THE GAME OF GOLF

My father enjoyed Green Valley over other local courses for several reasons.  We both grew up in the heart of Pittsburgh, but the city course in Schenley Park  had a few holes that had a road going through the fairway.  Dad thought I might hit a few cars and might cause me to not enjoy golfing.  The now-closed Crafton Golf Course had strict rules for a public course.  South Park and North Park were too long for a young kid.  The now-closed Holly Hill Golf Course had many blind shots, which resulted in thirty minutes of unnecessary ball searching for every nine holes of play.

Green Valley was wide open.  Seven of the nine holes were slice-friendly for right-handed golfers like myself.  The sight lines were very good, so searching for balls was left to a minimum amount of time.  Compared to other courses, I rarely lost golf balls at Green Valley.  I could hack a nine-hole score of 65 at age 12 and not lose one ball on the day.

The course owners and workers were nice, the fees were reasonable and the patrons enjoyed golf without the country club atmosphere.  It had an intangible, magnetic quality that I haven’t been able to duplicate on a golf course.

THE FUTURE OF GREEN VALLEY

In 2013, there were a few articles in local newspapers that mentioned AGH was giving up on the property, which is still up for sale as of 2018.  Shortly after AGH purchased the property it was determined the ground was not stable enough to support the construction of a medical building.  This decision of AGH to abandon the property was also due to their construction of their Allegheny Health Network “medical mall”, which was completed in nearby Wexford around the time they decided to sell Green Valley.

There has also been consideration for the McCandless Township Sanitary Authority (MTSA) to purchase the land and construct a water treatment sequential batch reactor.  The discussion of implementing this plan is in the early stages and remains a well-known rumor.

Richard Cook wrote an article titled, Sewer Treatment Plant Proposed For Old Green Valley Golf Course for the North Hills Patch on June 19, 2013.  MTSA Executive Director William Youngblood stated that, “If approved, we would have to acquire the property, and the permitting process could take up to five years.  The goal would be to have the plant up and running by 2026.”

Five years after Cook’s articled appeared, Green Valley still remains the same.  The “FOR SALE” sign still sits prominently at the intersection of Lowries Run Road and Mount Nebo Road.  The trees continue to overtake the land that sits quiet among the suburban sprawl that has transformed this former rural pocket of Allegheny county.

REMEMBER THE WHITE BARN

One day, the white barn will come down.  The overgrown brush on the nearby practice green and the path from the old parking lot will be cleared.  When I drive by Green Valley, I always take a quick glace, remembering what it looked like all of those years ago.  A part of my youth is gone, and somewhere in my heart it always hurts to see Green Valley fall into decay.

It was basic.  It wasn’t sexy.  But to me, Green Valley Golf Course was perfect.

***

If you played Green Valley, here are some memories from me:

Hole 1:  In 1987, there were two small red maples between 1 and 2.  My first-ever tee shot rolled between them.  One is still standing.  It’s pretty big now!

Hole 2:  One foggy morning, I was holding a 7-iron near the creek, hit the ball, and promptly flung the club into the creek.  Dad fished it out with the ball-retriever.

Hole 3:  Once out of the sand trap, I CRUSHED the ball over the green, hit the tree with the white stripe on it square, and the ball came back and landed near the green.

Hole 4: One of my very first birdies.  I hit my drive probably 300 yards.  It landed about 50 yards right of the pin.  I chipped within ten feet and rolled in the putt.

Hole 5:  When I was 12, I hit my tee shot within fifteen feet of the pin…on the 4th green.  Whoops!

Hole 6:  The moment I learned my own strength.  The short par-4 played about 250 yards straight and slightly uphill.  I hit my old persimmon driver off the tee, and the ball hit halfway up the first blue spruce adjacent to the green on the right. If I hit that ball the same way to the center of the green, I would have hit the cart bridge to the 7th tee on one bounce.

Hole 7:  Playing with three other guys one evening, I hit my tee shot over 300 yards and hit a 5-iron to sixty feet of the pin.  My first chance to make eagle.  I then 4-putted the hole for a 6.

Hole 8:  My friend Jason BOMBED a drive down the 7th fairway and the ball landed at the base of the huge hill below the 8th green.  With me watching at the top of the hill, he hit a 9-iron SKY HIGH, and the ball landed on the green within five feet.  One of the best shots I ever saw with my own eyes.  He missed the putt.

Hole 9:  If anyone ever wondered how the red stone tee marker broke in half, I was there when it happened.  A guy in the group ahead of me was hitting from the white markers, and his tee shot hit the red marker flush.  The ball came back flying at all of us while the marker exploded into several pieces.  It was awesome.

And the last memory is from my late father (Hole 9):  Dad and my Uncle John were playing when I was a baby.  John hit his tee shot into the sun.  He hit it good, but he couldn’t see the green because of all the sun glare.  When he and Dad got to the green, they couldn’t find the ball.  They assumed it went over the green since John got all of it.  The group that just finished told them it didn’t roll beyond the green and told John to check the hole.  The ball was in the hole.  Uncle John got a hole-in-one, and he didn’t even know it until the moment had passed.

How To Kill Your Blog (AKA, My distracted, stressful, tiring, yet rewarding year of 2018)

Momentum.  When it is in your favor, you feel unstoppable.  When it goes against you, you question everything about your soul-crushing existence.  Since March, I’ve been somewhere in-between.  New tales are to be told, stories are to be shared…once I have time to tell them again.

Two different stories have sat in my draft folder for five months.  The one passion that I have has been sacrificed to perform a variety of tasks against my will.  As painful as that last sentence sounded, 2018 has been a reminder that being a parent can suck your time up.  And that is fine.

So, what the hell happened to me?  It’s not as horrible as it sounds.  I know it can be much worse.  In 1998 and 2013, it definitely was.

1. My wife had me build a backyard play set for our son.  FROM SCRATCH.

We gave our neighbors an 1/8th of a mile down the road $300 so I could break down their former $1,200 swing/trapeze/slide/climbing wall/ladder play set, WALK THE ENTIRE UNIT UP TO OUR HOUSE PIECE-BY-GODFORSAKEN-HEAVY-PIECE, dig out a portion of the yard to level it, and rebuild the whole damn thing in our yard.  I did it.  It took WEEKS.  Probably over 100 hours of my time.  My son loves it.  Thank God.

2. My job is trying to kill me.

I work outdoors.  My back has bothered me off and on since the harsh winter that we had earlier in the year.  I’ve had poison ivy FOUR TIMES this summer.  Since it has rained non-stop this year, it’s been hard to keep up on my own yard work and I take care of my in-laws house as well.  Two hours of weed pulling has been a two day life suck all summer long.

3. Our son doesn’t sleep as much as other kids.

When our son was two, he went to bed between 8:30 and 9:15.  Finding time to write for 45 minutes was an easy thing to do.  Now at age four, he rarely goes to bed before 10:00…AND WAKES UP AT 6:30 ON THE WEEKENDS.  Good grief I am so tried these days.

But he’s healthy, and that’s a blessing.  With all of the energy he has, he better be a goddamn mad scientist one day.

4. My son needed a U6 soccer coach, so I volunteered.

Since this involves my son and other kids, I’ll put all of my energy into this.  That is, whatever energy I have left.  This runs until the end of October, so God only knows how long it’s going to be before I start writing again.

 

For now, my 1,500 to 2,500 word tales have come to a halt.  I apologize for any poor grammar concerning this rushed attempt at blogging again.  I would have reviewed it for errors…

…but I’m out of time.  My son has to go to bed now.  Well, maybe after an hour of pleading with him.

 

 

The Strangers Who Saved Me

From the mid-1960’s until 1987, one of the most popular shopping malls around Pittsburgh was Allegheny Center Mall in the North Side neighborhood of town.  It was a basic rectangular two-story design complete with an indoor, two-level parking garage directly under the mall.  I remember as a boy my brother Dan and I would tag along when our mother and our grandmother decided to shop there.  They had a variety of stores there, but one of the places I remember spending a lot of time in was Sears.

Even though I was very young in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I remember the vibe Sears had compared to the modern-day big box purgatory it has become.  The Sears of 35 years ago had the department store atmosphere of Target mixed with the product quality of Kohl’s.  It was a much nicer place to shop back then, and my grandmother loved to take her time and look at everything when she ventured out with us.

As a four-year-old in 1979, my grandmother’s appetite for perusing wore heavy on my level of patience, which of course back then was none.  I remember on occasion my mother yelling at me to remain close to her, fearing that I would run off and become lost in the store.  Around this time I developed an unhealthy habit of crawling under circular clothing racks and hiding in the middle of all the items on the rack.  Winter coats were my favorite; the added bulk allowed for a better hiding spot.

On one occasion just prior to Christmas in 1979, I decided to hide among the winter coats.  My mother and grandmother were apparently distracted by something and did not notice I was missing.  After a few minutes under the clothing rack, I noticed it became very quiet.  Upon crawling out of the fixture, I realized I was alone in that particular area of Sears.  Panicked and afraid of getting in trouble, I ran in between the clothes racks in hopes of catching up with my family before they knew I wandered off.  A good plan set forth by a four-year-old, but there was one problem:

I ran the opposite direction from them.

I can still remember vividly standing in a main side-aisle with the tile floor near the first-floor entrance to the mall from Sears.  I wondered if my family walked out into the mall to shop at other stores.  Completely terrified of all of the strange people around me and knowing that this was truly the first moment in my life that I was on my own, I stood there and started to cry.  A few seconds later, I heard a man’s voice:

“Hey little guy, it looks like you are lost.”

He was probably twenty-five but no older than thirty.  He had short, wavy brown hair typical of that era with a light brown coat and wore eyeglasses.  A woman was with him, presumably his girlfriend or wife.  She was about the same age, wore bell-bottom jeans and had long, straight brown hair.  I couldn’t convey my thoughts on attractiveness at the time, but I remember she was very pretty.  It was noticeable.

I confided to the man that I indeed was lost.  During this, I remembered him talking to me at my level, getting down on one knee to talk to me face-to-face.  It was unconsciously comforting and I remember reading from multiple stories through the years that children’s television pioneer and advocate Fred Rogers would do the same thing while talking to children.  Born out of this moment of fear, I have always tried to talk to children in the same manner when comforting them and to let them know that they have my full attention.

I never spoke to the woman, but I remember the three of us didn’t move from that spot right away.  I don’t know why, but it could have been they were hoping my family would arrive to see me, or the woman was informing an employee of my situation.  I only spoke to the man.  Apparently he learned from me that I became lost from my mom in Sears, so a plan was hatched to walk back into Sears instead of taking me out into the mall.

The man picked me up.  He stated that the three of us will go back into Sears, and when I saw my mom, I would point to her right away.  I calmed down a little bit at this point knowing that there was a chance I would get to see my family again.

The most vivid part of this tale is when we rounded the bend on the same side aisle I ran parallel to a few minutes earlier.  Looking ahead of us, I saw my mother, grandmother and my brother’s stroller with him inside of it.  It was one of the only times I remember my mom running.  My grandmother would have if she could, but she was pushing Dan in the stroller.  The man asked if this was indeed my mother, and I told him that it was her.

My mom expressed her thanks to the man and woman for bringing me back to her.  Mom told me many times over the years that this moment was one of the most frightening ordeals she encountered in her life.  It was ten minutes of time, but to her each minute felt like an hour.  She never got their names, but she will always remember them.

THERE ARE GOOD PEOPLE AMONG US

I hope that somehow in this universe there is a way I can personally say thanks to that man and woman who kept me safe in a time of complete vulnerability.  Maybe without knowing, I already crossed paths with them, helping them out in a time of need.  I know how old they would be now and I wonder if they stayed together, having a family of their own.

Without knowing it at the time of our encounter nearly forty years ago, I might have helped them at that very moment.  Perhaps, that look of sheer terror on my face stuck in their memories, and when it became time for them to have children of their own, they kept their kids close to them when going to public places.

The Colorless Life Of My Father

My parents grew up in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood during the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Like many other ethnically diverse places in the United States at that time, city neighborhoods often were divided up between African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Italians, Poles, Irish, Jewish, German and many other ethnic groups, dating prior to World War I.  Racism was everywhere in Pittsburgh then, even between nationalities that shared the same skin color.

My father lived in the epicenter of it all, nestled in a double-brick row house along Carey Way near South 18th Street.  At the age of fourteen, Dad took a newspaper carrier job, delivering the Pittsburgh Courier for a few years before working in a butcher shop during his final years of high school.

The Pittsburgh Courier was one of the leading African-American newspapers in the United States during its publishing between 1910 and 1966 (New ownership has called the newspaper New Pittsburgh Courier since 1966-67).  Its customers on the South Side were on the east end of “The Flats” between South 26th Street and South 29th, and a few houses that snaked up the back half of “The Slopes” on Josephine Street.  It was quite a walk from Dad’s house, especially carrying 30 to 40 papers eight city blocks and then climbing the hill toward the end of his route.

Each week, he collected the money due from each customer and turned his receipts into his supervisor.  He also thanked his customers for the extra money they gave him during Christmas.  Dad never told me how my grandparents felt about his first job, but he did tell me about the reaction he got from some of his friends.  His friends couldn’t understand how Dad could work for a black newspaper publication, a black supervisor and interact “with all the blacks” on the back half of the South Side.

To Dad, his customers were people.  People like all of the Polish families he knew from church and school, smashed between South 13th and South 20th.  People like the thousands of mill workers that walked to their jobs at all hours of the day.  Dad had a very progressive attitude toward race relations, especially in the turbulent era that he was a witness to.

During his time in the United States Navy, Dad continued to encounter people that had a difficult time accepting others that were of a different skin color.  Dad did his best to avoid these individuals and went on to meet many good, hard-working, disciplined men while he was stationed at Pearl Harbor, San Diego and doing reserve work in Philadelphia.  All of the guys were from different economic and cultural backgrounds, but Dad just saw men.  Not black men, white men, Latino men, California neo-suburban men and men with a southern drawl, just men–his Navy buddies.

THE PHILADELPHIA JAZZ CLUB STORY

The most memorable story Dad shared concerning race relations occurred in 1969.  Racial tensions were at an apex in the United States and Pittsburgh had its share of police-involved fights and riots.  At that time and through the early 1970’s, Dad would occasionally travel to Philadelphia for four weeks to do reserve work and complete his duty to the Navy.

One particular summer day, Dad decided to leave the barracks in South Philly and walked north on South Broad Street.  He heard from another reservist that there was a small jazz club and bar not too far from base, and that they had live performances daily by local artists.  A marine happened to hear Dad’s conversation and insisted he accompany Dad to the club to catch a few drinks.  Dad didn’t mind the company, but he soon realized that the marine was a “tough guy”, telling him heroic tales from his time served during the ongoing Vietnam War and apparently doing his best to emasculate Dad on their walk to the club.

The two of them arrived at the club.  They paid a small cover charge and made their way toward the bar.  They each got one beer and found a spot to sit down.  As Dad started to take in the music, the marine pokes at him to get his attention.  Confused, Dad wanted to know why the marine had a scared look on his face.

“What?  What’s wrong?”

“Look around.  They are all staring at us.  We’ve got to get out of here.”

“Who’s they?  Who’s staring?”

The marine, who just ten minutes prior was telling Dad about his heroism and strength in combat was frightened of the fact that he and Dad were the only two white men among approximately fifty black men.  Annoyed, Dad told the marine to shut up, drink his beer and listen to the music.  After a few songs, it was clear to Dad that the marine was squirming to leave the club, so they left despite Dad’s wishes to stay.  Dad felt that the marine’s uneasiness was drawing more attention to them than the music.  Dad was pissed at the marine, and despite being fifty pounds lighter and six inches smaller, told him how he felt.

“So you’re a big, tough marine, huh?  We’re all in there for the same reason, to listen to music, and all you saw was a bunch of black guys that were going to beat your ass.”

The marine didn’t say much to Dad on the walk back.  Going to the club Dad said he couldn’t talk enough about himself.  The same, ugly preconceptions that some of Dad’s friends had instilled in them years before were shared by the marine years later.  Stereotypes that kept people apart instead of bringing people together.

GOING FORWARD–STEREOTYPES AND MY SON

Before going to preschool, when my son was home or being watched by my in-laws, he noticed that people were different but treated everyone the same.  Now that he has gone to school, he has learned some not-so-nice preconceptions about race, gender roles and class structure.  When pressed on where he obtained such “knowledge”, he has stated that his classmates tell him these things.  This is proof that parents can have influence on the lives of others beyond their children.

In the coming years, I will continuously teach my son what my father taught me:  Don’t see the person by their color, ethnic background or by how much money they have…see them for who they are as a person.  If a person is good, then be like that person…no matter what color their skin is, man or woman, rich or poor…follow their example.

Pew Fine Arts Center & The Lily Room: Are They Haunted?

Two legends, many different stories and remarkably, a minimal amount of documentation found on the forever-truthful Internet.  How can the stories of “Gwendolyn” and “The Lily Room” live on through the current students and alumni of Grove City College but not among the rest of the world?  Even if they are not true, the tales are worthy of attention.

MY CONNECTION TO GROVE CITY COLLEGE

My wife and I moved north of Pittsburgh in 2006 so she could attain her doctorate from Slippery Rock University (Yes, I know, that school name is AWESOME).  We were to be there until the summer of 2008 for the classroom portion of her studies, so I left my job in Pittsburgh to find work near her school.  We rented a house in Grove City, which was seven miles from “The Rock” and about an hour away from Pittsburgh.  I was lucky to find work as a campus safety officer for Grove City College (GCC), which remarkably was a 1.2 mile round-trip commute for me.  Needless to say when we got a lot of snow, I would “accumulate” many hours of overtime since I was able to walk to work if necessary.

I was worried I wouldn’t last long at GCC since I have always been more liberal-minded and GCC is arguably the most strict, straight-arrow, conservative Christian college in the United States.  Based on the student code of conduct, more than half of the major violations in the student handbook were common non-offenses at probably ninety percent of colleges and universities.  The only places of higher education that could be deemed as strict are all of the service/military academies and Brigham Young University.

As I became acclimated to campus life, I actually liked the job.  My wife and I lived in Grove City for 23 months, and I worked at GCC for 23 months.  In the beginning I was an unarmed patrol officer on the weekend nights (Friday, Saturday & Sunday) and I worked as a dispatcher for two nights.  The patrol officer secured all of the campus buildings when they closed and entered them after-hours to check for any building maintenance problems (or any intruders).  Eventually I worked as a dispatcher all five days, but during my 14 months as a weekend patrolman, I walked inside all of the non-dormitory buildings alone between the hours of 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. over 150 times.

I walked the exteriors of the dormitories as well as the female dorm lobbies, but the only time I entered those buildings alone was during student breaks and when campus was completely closed.  I used to walk all of the floors in the men’s and women’s dorms when possible to chart the dorm room numbers in case I had an emergency called into the dispatch center.  I needed to know where to send my officers and outside personnel when they would navigate the steps since many of the dorms had over seventy-five rooms.

In all of my travels at GCC–inside/outside, old building/new building, lower campus/main campus, there were two buildings which I considered haunted.  One building will not be a surprise but the other haunted building will certainly shock any “Grover” that might read this.

HAUNTED BUILDING #1: PEW FINE ARTS CENTER–AUDITORIUM BUILDING

The PFAC was constructed in two phases.  The original part that houses the auditorium, band room and art gallery was built in 1976.  The smaller music rooms and the 100-seat recital room on the north end of the building was added on in 2002.  The PFAC replaced the still classy, still functional Crawford Hall (built in 1931) as the main building for the arts at GCC.  The urban legend of “Gwendolyn” was born from the PFAC shortly after its original construction.

The stories I was told at GCC and from what I’ve read on the Internet are the same:  Girl falls off catwalk above stage, girl breaks neck and dies, girl haunts building, girl is sometime seen on the catwalk and in the costume room.

There are some stories that revolve around a female custodian that helped out the theater department with her skills as a seamstress, died and then hung out at the PFAC after death because she loved being around the arts.

Nine years after I left GCC and I have yet to obtain concrete proof that either of these stories actually happened.  Regardless, all of the custodians that worked with me during my time at GCC referred to the spirit inside PFAC as “Gwendolyn”.  We never had a sighting of Gwendolyn during my time there, but the custodians would often find items moved around or broken inside PFAC when nobody else was inside of the building.  They had no other option but to put things back in order and acknowledge Gwendolyn’s presence by speaking to her like she was standing nearby:

“I know you’re here with me Gwendolyn.  I’ll be out of the building shortly.  I am just cleaning up after tonight’s event.”

I talked out loud to Gwendolyn as well.  Items did not have to be moved for me to know of her presence at PFAC; I knew it by the weight of the building.  The air inside PFAC was heavy on many occasions while I walked around in there after-hours.  Even though the building creeped me out, I made two total rounds inside and outside PFAC between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. every night I walked.

The newer side of the building on the north end did not give me the feeling that I was being watched.  The catwalk and the costume room–the central focus of all the ghost stories I heard about the PFAC, did not cause me concern when I roamed the building in the dark.  Two areas that are never discussed caused the greatest distress and provided an overwhelming sense that I was not alone:  The back hallway behind the auditorium and the rear stairwell that leads from the back hallway to the second floor of PFAC.

There are so many grand old buildings at GCC, it stunned me that a structure built in 1976 would completely scare people out of it.  Before I worked at GCC, there was a patrol officer that wouldn’t go in PFAC alone.  When I worked the dispatch desk, I could tell that other officers would avoid going into the building based on the duration of time they spent over there.  No other officers confessed to me that the building caused them concern, but it was evident they were avoiding its contents as well.

The only way I can describe my feelings in that back hallway/stairwell of PFAC is this way:  There were dozens of times I would be walking through that area knowing I was alone in there, and yet I got the sense that somebody was either walking or standing behind me.  I would reluctantly turn and find nobody there, but I stopped and kept my eyes on the back hallway or looking down the stairwell after I made my way upstairs.  Frozen in fear, it was as if my sixth sense was staring right at Gwendolyn, acknowledging her without saying anything at all.  The PFAC has a spirit, and I guess if Gwendolyn likes you, she will come down from the catwalk to let you know she is there.

HAUNTED BUILDING #2: HENRY BUHL LIBRARY

Buhl Library was completed in 1954 and consists of two main floors and a basement.  The finished basement has a rare book room (which is sometimes used for events) and a study area with a resource desk.  It is connected to the Weir C. Ketler Technological Learning Center, and I used to secure both buildings at the same time by using the rear basement hallway.  The hallway was the main access point between the “Tech Center” and the library.

Buhl is not as heavy as PFAC, but on occasion I would get the sense that somebody was in the building with me, even though I was alone.  I didn’t have the same feelings as I did with Gwendolyn, but the occurrences happened in the same locations throughout my time at GCC:  The second floor in the book stacks and the study area in the basement.

When I entered the basement study area on occasion, it felt like somebody was in there quietly studying while I walked through the room.  It never felt like a dark presence but it scared me enough that I continued on my rounds.  Upon my arrival in “The Stacks” on the second floor, I would sporadically come across a student sitting at a desk reading or studying, even though I couldn’t see them.  When I got the sense of someone being there, I felt the overwhelming urge to make my way through Buhl as I normally would but leave as soon as I was finished.

The majority of the nights I walked around Buhl were quiet.  I was comfortable enough to stop and take books out of the book stacks, sit down on one of the couches in the lobby, read the newspapers and go to the restroom if needed.  The building is centrally located on GCC’s campus so it was a good place to rest in case I got an emergency call.  Every night wasn’t scary inside Buhl but when I felt somebody there, I got out of there as soon as possible.

“THE LILY ROOM”:  GROVE CITY’S ULTIMATE URBAN LEGEND

When somebody brought up “The Lily Room” at GCC, the stories all began the same.  “Legend has it….”, “It is said that….”, “I heard that….”.  Nobody I came into contact with at GCC knew of anyone who came across the ghost that supposedly haunts the small bottom floor of Mary Anderson Pew (MAP) Hall, the largest and oldest women’s dormitory, built between 1937 and 1961.  Numerous campus safety officers and custodians I worked with were employed at GCC since the 1980’s, including one woman who started working at the college in 1963.  If “The Lily Room” was real, I would have been taken straight to the site by all of my co-workers.

The stories found and heard on the Internet are usually the same:  Girl moves into dorm room, has perfume that smells like lilies, hangs herself in dorm room, dorm room is sealed off for (x amount of) years, room is reopened and the scent of lilies is as strong as it was years ago.

The other version is this:  Girl moves into dorm room, has perfume that smells like lilies, becomes possessed by demons, commits suicide, dorm room is sealed off, etc.

Ever further, some people state the girl that became possessed was a different girl than the one that haunts “The Lily Room”; that she roams the halls, drags her fingernails along the walls and floors, crying out at night.  Based on my observations during my time in MAP Hall, I did not feel like the building was haunted, and I certainly did not discover the whereabouts of “The Lily Room”.

When the students were away on break, I had many nights at the desk where I would study the MAP Hall building drawings on the fire detection screen and inside the building card access monitoring system.  I was searching for the once-again sealed off “Lily Room” inside of MAP.  Each time I had an opportunity to walk the halls alone, I looked for modified walls on the bottom floors, listened for any cries coming from a female’s voice, watched for flickering lights and tried to keep my sense of smell aware of any flowery scents.  It took about ninety minutes to inspect the building since a dining hall is attached to it.  After about six slow, thorough midnight walks around the inside of MAP, I never felt a presence in the building.

FICTION:  IT’S MORE FUN THAN THE FACTS

Despite my belief that there is no truth to “The Lily Room”, I hope the legend lives on.  It can inspire writers and filmmakers into creating their very own version of the events that supposedly took place nearly seventy years ago.  If these future artists need suggestions on how to capture the sense of fear for their potential project, I recommend walking to the back southeast corner of GCC, enter PFAC, lock the doors and shut off all of the regular lighting inside the building.  Head to the back hallway and roam around alone, and walk up and down the back stairwell a few times.

And while you’re there, tell Gwendolyn I said hello.