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 eight 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.

 

 

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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.

On My 15,146th Day (In Iambic Pentameter)

Raised in a town known for steel and rebirth,

The product of parents who choked on its ashes,

Groomed to be virtuous among the broken and strife

Yet fell–engrossed in the fears of my home and its streets.

 

The awkward transition to grow mature and with purpose,

Wasting my youth in attempts to find manhood,

Searching six years beyond broken and lost,

A path was made clear through the trials and the errors.

 

The feeling of love brought forth a new passion,

True to my heart I pushed on through rough waters,

Intent on a life to expand my forced boundaries,

Content to pursue my dreams in tight quarters.

 

My son is my rock, my ground is kept stable,

His pursuits are now mine, my goals are left burning,

Purpose was found, my life loved while held down,

He will know my mistakes, shared space will bring triumph.

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.

 

 

 

 

Our Son’s First “Party Foul” (At Age 3)

On a Friday night in early December of last year, my wife was invited to a wine-tasting party.  It was to be at a house on the other side of our subdivision, which wasn’t far from our house at just under one mile.  These parties are usually reserved for adults, but my wife was told that she could bring our son along to play in the downstairs game room.  There would be other kids attending the event, so my wife agreed to take him along as long as I went too.

Great.

I know this party meant a lot to my wife, so I agreed to accompany her and our son with the intent of watching him play alongside the other kids in the game room.  Our boy was three at the time and to this day acts shy around strangers, so I knew my presence there would help him become acclimated to the unfamiliar surroundings.

We arrived in one car and went inside the house.  All of the women attending the party were sitting around on the main floor and the children were downstairs running around with only one adult watching over them.  I carried our son down the basement stairs since he was too afraid to move freely in this unfamiliar environment.  I weaved through various toys and kids in search of an open area where we could observe the chaos, and I located a open spot toward the back of the game room.

On the wall closest to us was a bookshelf that contained books (duh) and pieces of sports memorabilia.  I scanned the lower shelves to see if there was anything fragile in hopes that I could move items that might be subject to destruction via three year-old.  The only breakable item was a commemorative plate honoring Roberto Clemente, arguably the greatest Hispanic baseball player and greatest player for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The plate was seated on top of a small pedestal, which held the plate in place.

Before I could take a few steps to move the plate up a few shelves, a boy came over to our son and handed him a small football.  The boy was about the age of five, and he wanted our son to play with him.  Our son was surprisingly receptive; he accepted the ball from the boy and seemed eager to play with him and the other kids.  He didn’t cling to me like he did when we first arrived, so it looked like my night was going to be easier than I thought.

As the boy moved back to receive the ball, our son slowly turned his body and brought his arm back to throw the ball.  It was a very nice throw; there are six and seven year-old kids that don’t have the graceful mechanics of our little boy.  He threw a perfect spiral…right between Roberto’s eyes.

The plate immediately came crashing down to the tile floor, shattering into a few dozen pieces.  At the same exact moment, a collective groan was let out by everyone in the room, alerting our son to the fact that the broken plate was a terrible outcome as a result of his throw.  I didn’t yell at him because I knew he didn’t mean to do it.  The gesture from the boy to allow our son to play with him was very nice.

Our son began to cry uncontrollably.  He buried his head into my shirt and it muffled the sounds of his unrelenting wail.  I tried to remind him that I wasn’t mad at him for breaking the plate but he continued to sob and hide his face in embarrassment from all of the strangers in the room.  The situation bothered me so much that I actually had tears in my eyes.  I knew our son would have wanted to stay home and build puzzles with me and run around the house.  When he started to calm down, he made a declarative statement that I knew I couldn’t deny him:

“I want to go home.”

My wife was drinking wine so she wasn’t going to be fit to drive at that particular moment, so I knew taking a quick trip in the car wasn’t a good idea.  I also knew my wife wasn’t going to walk the 0.8 miles home, weaving through the dark streets of our subdivision.  Hell, she has problems finding her way in the daylight around our neighborhood.  I had to walk home and carry our son even if there was a slight chance we would be locked out of the house.  We didn’t take extra house keys in case the garage doors malfunctioned, but I told my wife to keep the house keys with the car keys so she could let herself in the house if she couldn’t open up the garage.  Now that she needed some time to “dry out” before driving, there was a chance she would come home very late.  Everyone upstairs knew what happened since they all heard the loud crash of the plate smashing against the floor, so when I told my wife we were leaving she didn’t even fight me on it.

It was nice for a December night.  No wind, no snow or ice on the ground and not much car traffic in the neighborhood.  Our son was scared because it was dark, but he was pleasantly distracted by several houses that had very nice (and very bright) Christmas light displays.  We arrived back at the house and I was so happy that our garage door opener’s keypad worked in the correct manner.  We made our way upstairs to put on our pajamas and then headed over to the dining room table where we built some superhero puzzles together.

THE ULTIMATE PARTY FOUL

A person is usually guilty of their first “Ultimate Party Foul” between the ages of 16 and 25 since it usually happens while alcoholic beverages are consumed.  To determine if someone is charged with such a “crime”, three questions must be asked:

  1. Did a guest break an expensive item during their time at the party?
  2. Did the guest responsible for the damage provide money or services for replacing/repairing the broken item?
  3. Has the guest responsible for the damage been in contact with the party hosts since the incident occurred?

If you answer “yes” to question 1 and “no” to questions 2 and 3, then the UPF has taken place.  I apologized for the damage and the guy who owned the plate we broke told me it wasn’t that expensive.  He was probably saying that to be nice, but I was glad our son wanted to go.  He was capable of breaking more stuff in the game room and we were already giving them money upstairs via the wine party.  We never returned to the house, we never provided money to replace the plate and we have not spoken to the man or woman who lived there since that night last December.  Thanks to our son, my wife and I vicariously committed our first UPF.

God-willing I hope to hear our son talking to his friends in the 2030s about their party adventures during the time they spent in college.  When friends bring up our son’s first real “party foul”, I’ll tell them this “old man story” to let them know there was a time many years ago that our son “went big”, and then he went home.

 

Jeff Gets In Around 7 p.m.

In parts of 2009 and 2010, I worked the desk for a high-volume towing company that routinely brought in fifty vehicles a day.  They handled calls for various police departments around the Pittsburgh area, including the state police and crime units.  It was a twenty-four hour operation and I primarily worked the 4 p.m. to midnight shift, which was the busiest shift.  Cars illegally parked during afternoon rush hour were towed away and brought to our lot, and my lucky butt had the pleasure of interacting with these car owners when they arrived on site to retrieve their vehicles.  The stress was unimaginable at times, so I would selfishly pray for rain when I had to work since the police would not tow many vehicles in bad weather.

Years before I worked at the impound lot, there was a driver named “Jeff”, who unexpectedly died at home under tragic circumstances.  Jeff worked a swing shift that didn’t exist when I worked there.  Jeff started at 7 p.m. and concluded his work “day” at 3 a.m.  Two drivers worked the second and third shifts, and Jeff assisted the two primary shift drivers with calls concerning DUI checkpoints, violent crime units, sporting events, concerts and coverage around the popular nightlife neighborhoods inside Pittsburgh’s city limits.

Shortly after I started working the desk, I was told to “listen for Jeff” if the office was quiet.  It was explained to me that after a self-flushing motion detector was installed on the stand-up urinal in the restroom, strange occurrences started taking place after 7 p.m.  The urinal, which had no operation problems during daylight shifts would flush itself two or three times at night.  The other desk clerks claimed that Jeff was responsible for the flushing since he always went to the restroom before heading out into his tow truck.  I wanted to believe them, but I set out to debunk their claims.

SIGNING IN FOR THE NIGHT

When a driver was ready to go out for their shift, they would call into one of the frequencies on the police scanner and inform the 911 call center which truck number was coming on/going off.  This was usually after they checked their truck–doing routine maintenance and making sure they had their paperwork ready to go:

“205 to base.”

“205.”

“I’m signing in for the night…will be on until midnight.”

“Thank you, received 205, 19:12.”

About three weeks in, we had a day mid-week when rain washed out rush hour towing.  I had a much quieter evening on the desk and then I heard it:

BULLLLWEEEEEEEESHSHSHSHSHSHSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

The stand-up urinal flushed on its own.  Looking up at the clock on the wall, I noticed it was 7:12.  The restroom door was open, there was no light on in the restroom and the hall lights were on.  To my knowledge, it did not happen again that night but I knew I had to keep track of the office environment when an incident occurred.  During busier evenings, I heard that urinal flush numerous times.  We had drivers coming into the office area with greater frequency since they had to give me their paperwork after each tow they were called out for.  Exact findings were impossible to record, but when I witnessed a “ghost flush”, I was amazed at the timing of the incidents.

LIGHTS ON, LIGHTS OUT

Over the next few months I had more than ten incidents of the stand-up urinal flushing on its own.  Almost all of them happened between 7:15 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and none of them happened on Sunday night (I was told that Jeff rarely worked Sunday into Monday).  Every time I had an occurrence, I would switch something in the environment to see if a particular light source was activating the sensor.  Hall lights would be kept on, then turned off.  The restroom lights would stay on, then turned off.  The restroom door would stay closed, then kept open.  Window blinds in the office would block sunlight from coming in, then opened up to allow the evening sky to illuminate the room.  No matter what environmental change I made to the office, I still heard the urinal flush around the corner, behind the restroom door and twelve feet from my desk space on the occasional quiet evenings that I inherited.

JEFF WAS LATE TODAY

I had a few flushes at random times after 9 p.m., and I jokingly told the other drivers that Jeff was taking a piss before heading out again.  In the parallel universe he occupied, he was probably dropping off a few tows in the back lot and he came into the office to drop off the paperwork for them.

Once on a quiet rainy evening, I heard the urinal flush well after 7 p.m.  I looked up at the clock and it was close to 8 p.m.  Jeff must have been running late that night.  I didn’t hear a flush at the usual time I would listen for it so I assumed this is why the first flush occurred so late that night.

The night shift desk clerk would hear the urinal flush on its own early on in their shift, but since I only worked a few overnights I couldn’t provide enough data to show that these ghost flushes occurred in one particular block of time.  No other paranormal activities took place inside the office, which led all of us to concur that Jeff was doing “his normal business” in the restroom while carrying out normal business as a tow truck driver.  The addition of the sensor simply provided all of the office workers knowledge that Jeff was still coming in to work the swing shift.

DON’T LET JEFF BREAK YOU (HE’S PROBABLY ON BREAK)

I try my best to listen for new ghost stories and urban legends that crop up around Pittsburgh.  I’m waiting for one that will speak of strange cold pockets that occupy areas of a particular fast-food restaurant, convenience store or pizza shop.  If any of these stories mention toilets flushing on their own, I’ll know it’s Jeff.  He won’t be there to scare people, he’ll be there because he loves their sandwiches.  But before he gets his food to go, I’m sure Jeff will head for the restroom to take a piss.

The Note From A Girl: A tale of uncertainty from 1998

In May of 1998, I was going to community college in Pittsburgh and finishing up the spring semester.  I had four classes that semester, one of which was an advanced English literature class on Monday nights (When I say “advanced”, it was a sophomore year equivalent course at a four-year school).  Part of the final for the English class was essay, and I was a slow writer.  Out of the fifteen to twenty students in my class I was one of the last to leave class that final night.

On my way back up to my car in the top parking lot, I noticed something white was tucked under my windshield wiper.  As I got closer it was clear to me that the white object was a piece of notebook paper folded over.  I opened up the paper and something was written in blue ink.  The writing looked like it belonged to a girl:

“Hey Larry, it was great having class with you this year!!!  Give me a call sometime so we can meetup!  555-555-5555”

One problem–there was no name on the note.

Now, looking at this from afar, one would simply say, “Okay, so just call the number and see who it is!!!”  Yes, that seems like an easy solution.  But going by my gut feeling, that note could have been left by one of six women…and only one of them was worth the risk of calling.

“The One” was Jennifer.  Not Jen or Jenny–she was Jennifer.  If the note had this name inked into it, I would have called her as soon as I got home (Silly Millennials, this is 1998–not many cell phones in the 1990’s).  Since the note had no name, I had to proceed with caution because:

1) With no name, it might have been put there by my on-again/off-again girlfriend to see if I was cheating on her.  My girlfriend didn’t know the names of the women I talked to at school, so that is why I felt the note might have been a trap.  It was a low probability, but if I called that number and it was one of her friend’s numbers, I would have encountered WAY too much drama to stay in the “relationship”.  (SIDE NOTE: If you find yourself in an on-again/off-again relationship, turn the damn thing off and move on.)

2) Some of the other girls that showed interest in me were, uh, clingy.  I’m being nice here.  To be fair, I know many girls from my youth thought I was weird.  I just didn’t want to call the number, have it belong to someone I didn’t like and have to disinfect them out of my life for the next three weeks.  All of this WHILE DEALING WITH MY GIRLFRIEND DRAMA.  It wasn’t worth the risk.

3) I parked my car at 8 a.m. and didn’t return until 9 p.m.  That note could have been there all day.  If the note said, “…great having class with you on Monday nights!!!”, there wouldn’t have been any doubt it came from Jennifer.  It said, “…this year!!!” Shit, with all those exclamation points she sure seemed eager to see me again.

If it was Jennifer, the absence of her name on that paper drastically changed the course of her life and mine.  If I saw her name, I would have called.  I would have stayed with her if we liked each other’s company.  I would have dumped my um, girlfriend and would have saved myself another seventeen months of on-again/off-again with her that mercilessly dragged on far into 1999.

A few months later, I came across a student who knew Jennifer and I asked how she was doing.  Apparently she was dating a guy and got a job not too far from where I lived at the time.  The information I received gave me the opportunity to locate her and try to find out if she indeed put that note on my windshield.  But, it sounded like she was happy spending time with her boyfriend and excited about a possible future with him.  I didn’t want to spoil her happiness by abruptly reentering her life and seeing if there was a real shot for us to be a couple.  So I declined to go see her.

It wasn’t worth the risk.