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.

 

 

 

 

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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. (Even Though He’s Dead)

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.

Living With Kidney Stones: How I reduce my risk of future flare-ups

On a Saturday morning in May of 2014, I got up out of bed experiencing a pain from my lower back and left side that I had never felt in my entire life.  Soon after, this pain was accompanied by frequent vomiting and the overwhelming urge to urinate even though nothing was coming out of me.  The back pain/side pain became so severe I could not walk.  My wife eventually drove me to the hospital to see if I was suffering from appendicitis.  It turned out I had a very large kidney stone lodged in my digestive system.  The doctor provided pain killers and advised me that parts of the stone will eventually pass through my body, but it might take time for the entire stone to exit my system.

Having no previous kidney stone issues, I was curious as to why I started having problems in my late 30’s.  In this post, I will provide insight into what caused my many kidney stone flare-ups between 2014 and 2017.

Cause 1: Dark-Colored Soda Pop

When my wife and I had our son in 2013, our lives went from an average of seven hours of sleep a night to less than four.  I was never a coffee drinker, so I was consuming a lot of caffeinated soda pop to keep me awake while at work.  Sure, I drank a few glasses of water each day, but I was probably consuming two to three liters of Mountain Dew or Coca-Cola daily.  Numerous studies have suggested a correlation between dark soda and a higher frequency of kidney stone trouble, and my issues verify this link.  Prior to 2013, it would have taken me five to seven days to drink two liters of soda pop.

After my first attack, I started drinking coffee and reduced my soda pop intake to pre-2013 levels.  I drank plenty of water and I did not have another attack until December 2015.  When I had my second attack, I knew my water intake was low that day but when I rehydrated I still had problems on and off for a few weeks.  I couldn’t understand why then, but I soon realized why after reading further studies.

Cause 2: Vitamin Supplements

As time marched on and my son got older, my diet did not improve since my wife and I were always tending to him, working all of the time and eating whatever was quick and/or convenient just to get through the days.  Eventually I started taking vitamin supplements to get my body the nutrition it was lacking.  What I did not know was that supplements have been shown to increase the probability of kidney stone reoccurrences in patients that have had major problems with passing them.  Supplements rich in calcium and vitamin D were especially responsible for more attacks, and I was taking supplements that included heavy doses of calcium and vitamin D.  When I had my second attack in December 2015, I was taking vitamin supplements occasionally for over a year.  After I quit taking them, I made sure I was getting my vitamins naturally through my food choices and kept drinking plenty of water.  But, I kept having occasional problems in 2016 and I found out another trigger for kidney stones that I should have caught when I discovered the supplement link.

Cause 3: Antacids

The active ingredient in antacids is calcium carbonate.  1000mg of CALCIUM carbonate in each tablet.  By having this much calcium in each tablet, antacids provide a daily amount of calcium just like vitamin supplements are engineered to do.  I was taking antacids on occasion to relieve indigestion and heartburn and I ended up indirectly giving myself more kidney stone issues.  Once I stopped taking antacids the kidney stone attacks calmed down toward the end of 2016.  After I identified the three causes for my kidney stones I thought I would be stone-free as long as a kept drinking enough water to keep my kidneys flushed.  But kidney stones are like life–sometimes the events of the past can wreak havoc on future endeavors.

THE ROLLING STONE

March 17, 2017 was a Friday.  I worked my usual daylight shift and the anticipated snowfall of that day did not happen.  I was on-call for snow removal so my weekend wasn’t going to be a fun one if snow was going to fall.  Around 6 p.m. that night, Pittsburgh got hit with a complete white-out of a snow storm that lasted all of thirty minutes.  About two inches of snow fell and another one or two inches of additional accumulation were threatening on weather radar.  I got called into work to remove the snow which disrupted my dinner plans and my most important task during the evening hours–drinking a few glasses of water.

I drank some water during my time at work but it was not an adequate amount for somebody living with kidney stones.  I left work at 11 p.m., praying that I would not get called back in during the night.  I was tired and I had an overwhelming urge to urinate.  I knew from past experience that I would have to stay up until at least 2 a.m. before going to bed.  The pain from my stones would not go away unless I drank enough water to fill up my digestive system and flush my kidneys.  After two to three hours of pain, my agony would stop once I was full of water.  But this time, something was wrong.

2 a.m. came and the pain continued.  More water, more pain, then it was 3 a.m.  I was urinating all the time at this point but I was still having extreme pain.  4 a.m., then 5 a.m.  Finally just after 6 a.m., my pain started to go away.  I think I urinated clear and frequently from 4 a.m. until 7 a.m.  I was awake for over 26 hours and I was still on-call for snow.  Thankfully, we did not get any snow the rest of the weekend.  I felt fine the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday.  I went back to work on Monday and everything seemed to be back in working order with my body.  Work on Monday was fine, and I headed home to clean up before going to pick up my son.  Before getting into the shower, I felt like I had to pee.

Everything felt normal when I started peeing.  Then, without warning I was overcome with extreme pain.  It felt like my penis was on fire and I stopped urinating for a split-second.  It felt like something was blocking my urine flow and as fast as the pain came on, it went away.

*PLOP*

I continued to pee without much discomfort, but I was confused as to why I had so much trouble going for that split-second of extreme discomfort.  Then, I looked in the toilet.

In the toilet was a pea-sized brown ball.  This ball just exited my body through my urethra.  In the past three years my kidney stones were little granuales of sand that would pass through my system.  On that day, I passed hundreds of these granuales at one time.  I felt fine after I passed this monster of a kidney stone and I haven’t had any problems since this incident.

AFTERMATH

Over the last few months I have continued to follow the same water regimen to combat against another flare-up, but I have occasionally experimented with cutting back on my water intake to see how my body would react.  Since I “dropped the ball”, I’ve had no discomfort when restricting my water consumption.  The pea-sized stone that slowly rolled through my digestive tract for almost three years was gone, and my symptoms of kidney stone issues went with it.  I continue to drink about two liters of water a day even though my pain is nonexistant.  I remember the agony of passing kidney stones and I hope I never have to experience that pain again.

 

The Ghost Who Snuggled With Me

Can a ghost story be funny?  Over the years I’ve had my share of the typical scary encounters that many people write and speak about.  My father had a very nice encounter that perplexed him until the day he died.  In 2008, my wife and I moved into a townhouse that would occasionally produce unexplainable occurrences.  So of course, I will now try to explain one of those occurrences during our four years at this location.

To be clear, my wife has had at least one experience with ghosts, but at the townhouse, she claimed that she never had any strange happenings while being there.  Me?  I had a few dozen bizarre tricks being played on me there, and they all happened during DAYLIGHT hours, when I was home alone.  I know–how convenient.

In my forty-one years I’ve lived in six different locations and the townhouse was the only living space that produced paranormal activity.  The place wasn’t that old (it was built in 1971), but the structure acted as if it had a storied history where people had a tendency to “stay” even though they “left”.  Most of the hauntings were enough to spook me but not in a mean-spirited manner of behavior.  Huge swings in temperature, lights flickering on and off (while other parts of the house were fine), a woman talking (usually one word but distinctively within the walls of the house) and the feeling of being watched were occasionally observed or felt.  The most severe of the incidents happened in 2009, about eighteen months in to our time at the house.

My wife has always worked a typical daylight job since we’ve been together, but I have not.  At the end of 2009 I was working a 4 p.m. to midnight shift and I didn’t see my wife that often (Some men would call this paradise.  I’m kidding.  Really.).  I would be home alone each morning, but I would usually sleep throughout the morning and into the early afternoon.  The sunlight coming through the windows didn’t bother me and we didn’t have a cat yet to wake me out of a deep sleep just so they could put their ass in my face.  Sleep was abundant, peaceful and sometimes, unnerving.

Around 10 a.m. one morning, I woke up, but I didn’t get out of bed right away.  Once I saw the time I knew I had a few more hours of sleep to get in before heading off to work.  Eventually I drifted back to sleep, and the next thing I remembered seemed like a dream.  I remember my eyes remained closed, my arm was draped over what seemed to be a woman’s body in the middle of the bed, her hair in my face and the smell of perfume.  Not old lady perfume but a sweet, light, flowery fragrance.  By the contour of the body and the scents I encountered, it felt like there really was a woman in bed with me.  A slender, sophisticated girl was spooning with me into the late morning at the house.  Eventually I became more conscious of the situation, but I was afraid to open my eyes.  At this point I knew I was awake and I felt someone/something was spooning with me in bed.  Eyes still closed, I lifted myself up, knelt upon the mattress, and opened my eyes–I couldn’t believe what I saw.

In bed, next to the location of where I was sleeping, there was an indentation in the mattress.  There was no person there, but the mattress provided a perfect outline of a female’s body snuggled up right next to where I was lying in bed.  The smell of perfume still resonated through the room and it wasn’t anything my wife would wear.  She wears “Chance” by Chanel and that’s a smell I’ve been around since we started dating in 2004.  Even though I was frightened, I was at the same time flattered by the experience.  Instead of screaming out and trying to banish what I couldn’t understand, I thanked it.  I’m convinced it was a woman, and I thanked her for appearing to me in a loving manner.  I believed she liked being around me and I told her she can stay in the house.  But I also told her that spooning with me scared me, and that I now know she was there in the house–there was no reason to manifest into a form anymore.

In the remaining 2 1/2 years we lived there, I never had another ghost snuggle with me and the hauntings went back to the milder fare I became accustomed to.  Often I thanked the ghost for letting us co-exist with her while we occupied that particular space in time.  I’m sure one day I’ll find out who she was when I have the opportunity to walk through the invisible veil amongst us and into another dimension.

Unless she met someone else…probably moved to Maryland or somewhere further south.

 

 

 

Chuck E. Cheese’s 1984: Where a kid can fight off teenagers to play arcade video games

For my 9th birthday in 1984, my parents took me to an establishment new to the Pittsburgh area that had plenty of games for kids and plenty of pizza for kids to eat.  Chuck E. Cheese’s was my funhouse as a child, and it looks nothing like the place I knew growing up over thirty years ago.

Each location in Pittsburgh had different activities for kids, and I appreciated the location west of town near Bridgeville.  Sure, they had an awesome ball pit and they had a cool and scary twisty slide (It would have been deemed unsafe in 2017, that’s for sure), but the real draw for me was that the Bridgeville Chuck E. Cheese’s had the best selection of arcade games to play under one roof.

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My favorite arcade game

The original Chuck E. Cheese’s had the same types of games that are found in today’s locations–skee-ball, whack-a-mole, wheel of fortune and other games where the object is to earn tickets which are then redeemed for cheap toys.  Toys that might cost a few dollars elsewhere, but at Chuck’s they could be obtained with the tickets earned from $10 worth of skee-ball games.  Today’s locations have many more of the “ticket games” than actual arcade games.

At my old age, I was curious as to why the old Chuck’s had so many cool arcade games.  I discovered that Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, Inc. was actually one of the original owners, and wanted the video game arcade to showcase many of the titles that Atari and its parent companies released.  What transpired in the arcade section of Chuck’s in the mid-1980’s was wonderful chaos.  In a place that was marketed to children ages 3 to 12, teenagers and college kids were lining up to play video games.

The arcade section was set up the same as other arcades in the 1980’s.  They were usually found at malls and amusement parks all across America.  Token machines were stationed throughout Chuck’s.  One token was worth twenty-five cents, and the majority of people playing the arcade games at Chuck’s would simply walk in, bypass all of the pizza and dinner theatre themed areas for the kids and spend $10 to $20 on the thirty to forty arcade games lined up in a U along the walls on one side of the main play area.  Some of the bigger cockpit-style video games were in the center of the floor, including two (TWO!!!) Pole Position games.

All of the games were not Atari games.  It seemed that Bushnell wanted whatever was hot to increase traffic and boot profits.  Many of the companies I remembered were very big names in the video game industry then and well represented at the Bridgeville Chuck’s.  In addition to Atari, they had Nintendo, Data East, Midway, Konami, Sega, Namco and Gottlieb.  Gottlieb was the video game equivalent of a “one hit wonder”, being responsible for the legendary game Q*Bert, which is pictured above.

By 1986 traffic declined at Chuck’s due to the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).  Previous home systems were mostly crude  versions of the arcade games, but the NES combined fun games with better graphics.  Teenagers and college kids could buy an NES, play games at home all day and not have to worry about running out of money to play the machines at an arcade.  Even though there were less people playing the games, for a few years the machines stayed at Chuck’s.  Toward the end of the 1980’s, the Bridgeville Chuck’s had the following games in one location:

Donkey Kong, BurgerTime, Bump ‘N’ Jump, Rampage, Defender, Joust, Gauntlet, Space Invaders, Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man, Galaxian, Galaga, Dig Dug, Pole Position, Q*Bert, Frogger, Centipede, Paperboy, Marble Madness, Zaxxon, Out Run, Mario Bros. (The original, not Super Mario Bros.)

Chuck’s had other arcade games besides these, but I remembered these games well.  They were fun to play and I even enjoyed watching the older kids play them because I would learn the game before spending my money.  The 13-25 age group that hogged most of the games taught me which ones were the best to play so I could spend my $5 a little more wiser than I would have.  And sometimes, the older kids let me in on the action.

At my brother’s 8th birthday party in 1986, the Bridgeville Chuck’s got a multi-player Gauntlet machine.  It would allow for up to four players to run the game at once and team up to beat the enemies on each level.  I was 10 at the time and while I was walking through the arcade, a teenage boy about 15 years-old asked me to be player four on Gauntlet.  I agreed even though I had no idea what I was doing.  The two other players with us were his friends, also around high school age.  During the game he taught me how to use the buttons and what areas to focus on attacking.  By the time we completed the game (We got about halfway through the game before we all ran out of money), there were a few other teenagers watching us run through the beginning levels.  Before the next batch of guys tried the new game, they were asking my new acquaintance and I about the game play features.  Not him and his friends–him and I.  Me, all of age 10.

The Gauntlet experience at Chuck E. Cheese’s taught me not to be afraid of unfamiliar environments.  Sometimes the people that seem intimidating end up being helpful, kind and welcoming.  If I would have said, “No, I don’t know how to play”, an early shred of confidence gained would have been missed out on, and it would have affected me going forward in life.

That fall, my friends at school wanted me to go out for the basketball team.  I never played before, but I remembered playing Gauntlet with the older kids, finding my place on a team and learning that new experiences didn’t have to be scary, unappealing situations.  I tried out for the team, made the team, and by the end of the year had become one of the better players.

So as you can see reader of this post, there is a lot to be learned from playing video games.  Happy 40th birthday Chuck E. Cheese’s, and thanks for the awesome place to learn the meaning of confidence.

Trixie: A moment of romance in an unlikely place

I assure you this tale is a clean one, but the location of where this story unfolded was not.

In the mid-2000’s I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at the age of 28.  I worked full-time while going to school, so many semesters were one or two part-time classes at night.  When I got to my senior year, I took more daylight classes and was easily the oldest student among all of my traditional college-age classmates.  I wasn’t dating anyone at the time, mostly because schoolwork enveloped all of my free time and the 20 to 23 year-old women I attended class with wanted nothing to do with my “old man student” self.  Everybody was friendly and I got along with everybody at school, but it was amazing how five or six years of age difference–even in my twenties still provided a huge cultural gap.

During Saint Patrick’s Day weekend my senior year, a few friends I grew up with asked me to head down to Pittsburgh to drink with them and just be Irish for a day (I’m 100% Polish decent).  I agreed to meet them in the early afternoon on the South Side just after the parade traffic let out (To this day, Pittsburgh has the second-largest Saint Patrick’s Day parade in the United States, only behind Boston).  We met at one of our favorite taverns and proceeded to hop around to different establishments to check out the wonderful debauchery at each location.  I managed to pick up a green hat and some beads from a few sponsored parties, so after a few hours I fit the description of a typical reveler on March 17 in America: Drunk, Irish and wearing costume jewelry.  If I remember right, my hat had a Labatt’s logo on it.  That’s right, a Canadian brewery putting their name on green hats for Saint Patrick’s Day.  Awesome.

We eventually encountered a large gathering complete with outdoor stage, portable toilets, beer, food and LONG lines at the “porta-potties”.  The atmosphere was awesome, but after drinking a half-dozen beers in under two hours, I had to piss really bad.  Knowing the South Side well, I knew there were a few big restaurants and bars not far from the party in the parking lot.  They had no cover charge to get in, assuming they wanted to attract people to their establishments since the street party was taking away potential business.  I walked alone over to one of the restaurants with the plan of having a beer there in case they wanted rouge pissers like myself to patronize the place (Since people like me were running up their water bill).

I entered the restaurant and immediately stand in line for the men’s restroom.  The men’s line was only a few men outside of the door.  The women’s line was another story.  There must have been twenty women waiting just to get inside the restroom.  When I was the third or fourth guy waiting to get in the men’s room, a group of women jumped into the men’s room line and asked me and another guy if they could go in with us.  We had a good laugh about it and agreed to the proposal.  At that point I looked at the other women behind the one I was talking to.  One of the girls was “Trixie”.

Trixie went to college with me.  She studied under the same major as me, had multiple classes with me and barely spoke ten words to me at school.  It’s not that we didn’t get along, it was that we had nothing in common.  She was five years younger than me, athletic and from another part of the country.  We entered the restroom and I took a piss right in front of her and her friends while we continued to talk.  I washed my hands to just get out of their way so the girls had space to duck into the stalls.  I can’t remember which person first struck up the conversation, but I do remember it was basic.  I asked her how life was after graduating and she mentioned she was in town to party with her friends from college.  We were both laughing at each others’ festive attire when something changed.

I don’t know what spurred our next action, but right before Trixie was to enter the one stall, we faced each other, put our hands around our waists and we passionately kissed.  My emotions were everywhere for a split-second.  I could hear the few random guys in the restroom playfully hollering at us, then I remember her friends reacting in shock with the sound of gasps and laughter at the sight of us.  A few seconds later, I heard nothing.  It was as if my mind blocked out every outside influence and quenched every single second of my uh, romantic moment with Trixie.

Right after our kiss was over, I said, uh, um–I can’t remember what I said to Trixie!  I don’t know if I said something off putting to her or if her friends pulled her away from me (Maybe Trixie had a boyfriend?), but the next thing I remembered was walking back to the outdoor party to find my friends.  I didn’t tell them what happened because I felt they wouldn’t believe that I kissed a girl in a crowded men’s restroom.

I never saw or talked to Trixie again.  If I said something terrible to her that day she didn’t deserve it.  She was a nice girl and I’m sure she’s doing just fine with whatever she is doing these days.  Trixie and I created no memories of us at college to reflect upon, but we shared an unforgettable, spontaneous experience in the most unlikeliest of places…unless she was too drunk to remember.

Soothe: Nintendo lullabies, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake and my young son’s love of them

There’s the old adage, “Write what you know.”  Many writers over time (Including Twain and Hemingway) have given this advice.  This tale can be titled Sing What You Know and/or Put On Music That Calms You Down When Calming Your Baby Down.  

My wife and I have one son who is age three right now.  When he was a newborn, he did the usual things a baby would do in its first year.  He woke up at night many times, pooped six times a day, required burping after bottles and wanted to be held the majority of the time.  We both worked during this period of his life so trying to get enough sleep was becoming more difficult.

I have a brother who is eight years younger that me, so I remember observing what my mother and father would do to calm my little brother down when he was crying.  Some would obviously work (Giving him a bottle because he was hungry) and some would not (Taking off/adding clothes when he just wanted held).  Over time my parents learned his cues and my brother didn’t cry as much as he got closer to his first birthday.

During those early desperate nights when it seemed we could not get enough sleep before going into work for a full day, we tried to understand our son’s needs in an attempt to get him back to sleep.  When it came time for me to take my turn in the waking up rotation, I wanted to sing my son back to sleep but I didn’t know any of the traditional lullabies people would sing to babies.  I wanted my wife to stay asleep, but I didn’t want our son to keep crying for thirty minutes.  I needed something to hum or sing that was repetitive, and there was only one type of music that came to mind in my state of sleep-deprived delirium:

Video game music from my old Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

The first night I tried using NES music, I slowed down the background music used in the above-ground levels of 1986’s The Legend of Zelda.  It worked!  My wife would get so pissed that I could sing him back to sleep with the silliest method that would never be found in parenting advice books and blogs.  When our son didn’t want to hear the Zelda music, I slowed down the following music from other games (I challenge others to try this method to see if it works on other babies):

The podium win AND the “kick the can” music from Excitebike, above-ground music from Super Mario Bros., the game introduction/general background music from Bases Loaded and the count out/winner music from Mike Tyson’s Punchout.  I added a few from other platforms, including the original “hammer” music from Donkey Kong.

As my son got older and started going to day care, I had a problem keeping him happy in his car seat on the way home.  I always had CD’s of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen in the car, so I would pop one in to see if the mellow folk music of Drake or Cohen would calm him down.  I could tell he was listening to the different instruments and the words being sung in the songs.  It was a sound completely different from what he heard in his early life.  After a few tracks, he would go to sleep.  If I knew he didn’t sleep well during the day, I would keep the music on and drive around for an hour to let him rest.

Even at three, my son remembers some of those drives home and knows their music well.  He has his own special names for each of his favorite tracks and when I pick him up from day care, we usually have Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left on when we drive home.  Instead of tossing a child’s DVD in the car and my son blankly staring at a small TV screen while we drive home, my son and I sing “Time Has Told Me”, we listen for the strings to kick in on “River Man”, all while looking out the car windows, seeing the birds fly, viewing the turkeys pecking at last year’s corn crop remnants and marveling at the big construction trucks when encountering road work being done.

I loved my old NES and when I have time again, I know I will eventually purchase the recently released Nintendo NES Classic Edition.  I love the music of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen because their poetic songs bring calm to my worrisome existence.  The games and songs that have soothed my soul over the years have provided my son with the same feelings of comfort and familiarity in a unique form.

 

Carrick Classic Lanes: A south Pittsburgh relic immortalized by Hollywood

On a congested section of Brownsville Road in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Carrick, there is a simple double door tucked away just a few steps down the street from a local tavern.  Hundreds of people walk by this door every day, unaware that beyond the inner vestibule an old American “bowling house” awaits.  Alleys that hold precious memories in the hearts of many south Pittsburgh residents and were triumphantly portrayed in the 1996 film Kingpin.  Alleys that remain but are not in use like they were throughout the last half of the 20th century.  The name of this hallowed place?  Carrick Classic Lanes (CCL).

In 1995, the present day Roosevelt Elementary school along Brownsville Road was a vacant building.  The upper parking lot was only in full use when the patrons of Saint Basil’s Church used the lot during Saturday vespers, Sunday services and their annual festival.  So it was very surprising at that time when one dozen mobile-home trailers occupied that very lot for a week along with numerous box trucks scattered between West Cherryhill Street and CCL.  Eventually people in the neighborhood found out that parts of a movie were being filmed inside CCL with Woody Harrelson (Roy Munson) and Randy Quaid (Ishmael).

The two images above are from the downstairs of CCL.  Lanes 1-12 are upstairs when walking in the front door and the staircase just inside the front door to the left lead down to lanes 13-24.  In the movie, a fictitious exterior was used when Munson ventures into “Lancaster Bowl”.  After Roy enters the building, the next clip shows  Munson descending  the very same steps I walked down as a young city boy.  Here, Munson witnesses Ishmael bowling for the first time, and the partnership that is the foundation of the movie is born.

CCL not only had the look of an old-school 1950’s bowling house, it was a 1950’s bowling house that did not “modernize” their equipment or the aesthetics since its heyday.  My bowling ball would return to me with an occasional slice or gouge in it.  The ball returns were at alley level, whereas the newer bowling centers had their returns dropped below the lanes.  There was no computerized scoring at CCL and there wasn’t even overhead scoring projectors that were common in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Scoring was done on paper and pencil.  From an insider’s perspective, I could understand the appeal of CCL to Hollywood. It was one of the last truly authentic bowling alleys in Pittsburgh.

When viewing Kingpin, the generations that are younger than my Gen-X self will have a hard time understanding how important bowling was to many Americans.  Professional and amateur leagues were far more abundant than the recreational, “cosmic bowling” participants that are fast becoming bowling’s majority moneymaker.  There were many fun characters that I used to encounter at each bowling house I rolled at and the old pro league on ABC and ESPN had just as many goofballs throwing strikes on TV.  Kingpin captured the essence of bowling’s finest hour:  It proves that bowling can be entertaining in its purest form.

In Pittsburgh and across the United States, some old-school bowling houses remain but many are gone.  Suburban bowling centers with a high amount of lanes, a high amount of gimmicks and high prices (To help pay for the gimmicks) continue to alienate the people who JUST WANT TO BOWL.  Even if my bowling manifesto fails to reignite a movement, a resin ball re-enlightenment, it gives me great joy that I can revisit my childhood bowling house, a place where bowling mattered, just by watching Kingpin.

My father used to tell me wonderful stories about his old bowling house on the South Side of Pittsburgh, which was Alvin’s Lanes.  I had to imagine what the place looked like since it closed in the mid-1970’s.  Hopefully one day when my son gets older, I can not only share my goofy bowling stories with him, but I can ACTUALLY SHOW HIM what CCL looked like.

In Kingpin, there is a scene where Munson is sitting with his legs open on an above-alley ball return at CCL between lanes 11 and 12.  Not paying attention, a ball rolls up to him, hits him in the nuts, and he collapses to the lanes below.  At the age of twelve in 1988, my 128.6 average self rolled a 212 on lane 12 at CCL in my catholic school bowling league.  It was my first 200 game and one of the fondest memories I have from that time in my life.  No matter what happens to CCL in the future, I am grateful that Kingpin will always grant me the opportunity to revisit the bowling house that I knew growing up in Pittsburgh.

***

Movie images are property of MGM Studios, Inc. and were found via Google Images

A great example of a classic bowling house with 21st century equipment/technology is Arsenal Lanes in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood.  Google Image THIS place!  Well done.

Alvin’s Lanes resided on the second and third floors of what is now Nakama Japanese Steakhouse on East Carson Street in Pittsburgh’s South Side.  One floor had ten lanes of duck pins, the other floor had ten lanes of ten pins.