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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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.

1917: A Discrimination Tale

 

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All of my ancestors that decided to come and start a new life in the United States during the early 1900’s came from Poland.  Yet, I have a German last name.  This is the story of how my great-grandfather created an alias to attain better job opportunities and avoid the overt discrimination that dominated American life during his time as a steelworker.

THE ARRIVAL OF “FRANK”

Between 1892 and 1909, my ancestors passed through Ellis Island on their way to the South Side of Pittsburgh.  With Polish diacritics in their surnames, they settled in the same pocket of town, married and started families.  My great-grandfather Frank Golebiewski arrived sometime in 1904 or 1905, and I’ve never heard of somebody calling him anything other than Frank.  Coming from Poland, there was no way his birth name was Frank.  My family was never sure if it was indeed Francizek.  Even before he settled into his new life across the Atlantic Ocean, Frank was creating a new identity for himself.

Upon arriving in Pittsburgh, Frank went to work in one of the many steel mills on the South Side.  In 1904, there were at least six that sat along the Monongahela River in the city limits and many more just outside of the city.  Frank worked for two mills: Oliver Iron and Steel Company and another owned by Alexander Byers.  The mills sat three city blocks apart and produced piping, nuts, bolts, rivets and many other specialty parts used in construction projects.  Working in these mills required a higher level of intelligence than most of the South Side factories.  Many machine operators had to have a basic understanding of math to create dies (metal forms), molds, production tools and other site specific items used in the manufacturing process.  Frank started out at Byers and basically held the same position for about a dozen years.  He was a ground level production worker with no authority.

Over the years Frank noticed that all of the higher level positions in the steel mills were controlled by mostly English or German men.  When job openings would be posted for such titles as, “Crew Foreman Wanted”, somewhere under the heading would read, “No Poles Need Apply”.  Other select ethnic groups would also be shunned in these advertisements, but the Poles were always included on these posters around the South Side.  Frank knew he was qualified for a supervisory role, but he also knew his last name was hindering his ability to earn more money for his growing family.

All of the Catholic Polish families attended church at Saint Adalbert parish and were members of the Polish Falcons of America, which is a fraternal society that has had its national headquarters in Pittsburgh since the 1910’s.  For years, “Falcons” (As my grandparents called it) had two buildings in the heart of the South Side.  Many of Frank’s Polish co-workers were also friends to him.  They drank, smoked and played the card game euchre with each other at Falcons or at their houses when they weren’t working at the mills.  Over time it became apparent to his friends that Frank wanted to move on from Byers, but he didn’t know how.  Even in 1917, “glass ceilings” existed at the workplace.

A CARD GAME, A NEW NAME

One Saturday night during the usual euchre game between the guys, a close friend and co-worker of Frank’s–a person that I have never learned the identity of, came up with a plan for Frank to get a promotion:  Frank had to get a foreman’s job at a different mill but with the German last name of Kress.  Employers didn’t check for proper identification until they were forced to by law in the 1930’s, so Frank simply could use the surname Kress as an alias.  Of all the surnames Frank could use, why was he instructed to use Kress?

I don’t know if it’s a generational trait or if my family was very uninterested in their family history, but I never got a straight answer as to why Kress was the consensus pick to obtain a job promotion.  Over the years I pieced together some facts about Frank, the name Kress and what the name meant to “Millionaire’s Row” on the other side of town in Pittsburgh’s North Side:

Kress wasn’t as common as other German names in Pittsburgh.  If Frank chose “Miller” or one of the many spellings of “Schmidt”, eventually one of the higher supervisors who did have the last name of Miller or Schmidt would have found him to be a phony.  In traditional German, Kress is spelled Kreß, with the eszett (ß) representing the “sharp S” and replacing the “ss” at the end of the name.  So if Frank was to be German, his friend sure picked a hardcore, badass southern German name for him to use.

Frank knew how to speak the German form of broken English.  Over the course of twelve years at Byers, Frank heard his German supervisors speak to the English heirarchy in English when the production process was discussed on the floor of the mill.  Frank had to have some experience with German culture when he grew up in Poland as well. Poland and Germany shared a border then (Poland was a territory of the Russian Empire) and they still do in 2017, so being exposed to German culture as a boy gave Frank confidence that he could portray being German in the “theatre” of steel mills.

Early automobile owners on Pittsburgh’s North Side relied on the Kress name to keep their cars moving.  The North Side and South Side of Pittsburgh are less than four miles apart, but to the people of 1917 Pittsburgh, they were very far from each other since automobiles were only owned by the upper class.  Many of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest families resided in what was deemed, “Millionaire’s Row”, a few blocks of very large mansions on the North Side that were primarily built along Ridge Avenue and North Lincoln Avenue (Many of them still stand today).  When the automobiles of the wealthy needed work done on them, servants were dispatched to handle the problems. The rich rarely interacted with the working-class, especially immigrant workers. For car tires, a man (Or a few men) with the last name of Kress provided good, affordable tires to the people of the North Side.  Their reputation grew from their roots as horse carriage builders and they eventually got their own automobile repair garage in the 1920’s. Pittsburgh’s elite might have not interacted directly with their tire repair and service shop, but the name Kress represented hard work and provided a good product on the other side of town.

DEEMED QUALIFIED (EVEN THOUGH HE LIED)

A few months after Frank’s promotion plan was outlined, he secured a foreman job at Oilver Iron & Steel as Frank Kress.  He kept this job until the mid-1930’s, when employees were required to provide legal documentation for work due to the Social Security Act of 1935.  Poles in 1930’s Pittsburgh did not suffer from the same level of discrimination as their ethnic group did twenty years prior, so Frank found suitable work as Frank Golebiewski until he retired after World War II.

I theorize Frank’s friend knew about the Kress family and their budding business on the North Side.  He also knew that the owners and higher managers would never strike up casual conversations with Frank.  Frank’s secret would be safe, and his plant supervisors could see that he was capable of supervising workers while delivering quality products.

Frank must have been well-respected by his friends and fellow co-workers, because I’m sure there were plenty of people that worked under him that could have “ratted him out”.  I guess all of the Poles that worked for him didn’t mind working for their “German” boss.

THE ALIAS AND MY FAMILY TREE

My grandfather (Pap), Frank’s son, was the only one in the family to legally change his last name to Kress in 1953.  I think Pap might have pissed his dad off when he made Kress his real name, because Pap never really gave me a good reason why he did it.  Personally, I love that Pap changed the name because it preserved this story about his dad and what he had to do to succeed in America.

Many other families around the world have similar stories to mine.  I even have a few more examples within my own family.  Solarczyk is another name throughout my family tree.  My grandfather who had this name had step-brothers who legally changed their name to Solar.  They also changed their last name to attain better job opportunities.

DIFFERENT ERA, DIFFERENT COUNTRIES, SAME STEREOTYPES

In 1917, immigrants that resided in the south neighborhoods of Pittsburgh came from many different countries in eastern Europe.  In 2017, the same south neighborhoods I grew up in still have an immigrant population, but from entirely different parts of the world.  Today, former citizens of Nepal, Bhutan, Mexico, Laos and Somalia seek the same opportunities that my great-grandfather Frank did.  The discrimination might not be as overt, but long-time residents seem to have a hard time accepting foreigners into their communities.  Long-time residents who have apparently forgotten the fact that their ancestors were the target of the very same abuse that they shell out on our 21st century newcomers.

The United States of America is known as a melting pot.  It was in 1917 and it is in 2017.  Hopefully in 2117, there will be another third-generation American sharing a tale about how their great-grandfather arrived in New York in 2004 or 2005 and found a way to succeed in an foreign country in search of a better life.  A third-generation American that is not a victim of discrimination, but remembers the stories from his family of when they endured it on a daily basis.

***

Thanks great-grandpap Frank.  The story of your drive to succeed, your emphasis on family and your courage to take risks to benefit your sons and daughters in the future is not lost in time.  I’ll make sure my son knows your story too.

Your great-grandson,

Larry Kress

(Image found via Google, traced to an advertisement found in “The Daily Free Press”, June 19, 1910.  Carbondale, Illinois had a newspaper under this name in 1910 and they have a rich history in coal mining.)

The Firefighter: A friendly haunting of my father

During the 1950’s my late father was busy running around the alleys in Pittsburgh’s South Side Flats neighborhood.  It was a typical big city atmosphere, where shop owners lived above their store fronts, everyone was within walking distance of their jobs and churches and small grocers popped up on every block to serve the needs of the community.  For a few years when he was between eight and ten years of age (circa 1951-1953), Dad and his friends would occasionally see a older firefighter walking down their alley on his way to work.

Dad described him as a tall man in his early sixties, with a full head of silver hair under his hat.  He didn’t know what his rank was within the firehouse, but based on the uniform he could tell he was one of the chiefs (There are a few of them in the United States anyway).  When the man was wearing his long company overcoat during the colder months, he had these amazing gold buttons or clasps that would run down the entire front.  Dad thought his uniform was really cool.

Dad never got his name, but he and his friends interacted with the firefighter enough to remember his voice and gait.  They talked to the firefighter in the street when they were pushing toy cars off of a stoop, playing sports or just sitting around enjoying a nice day.  When the man spoke to them, he came down to their level, never standing tall and hovering over them.  These interactions were never more than a few minutes at a time since he was heading to work.  Dad never saw him again after the age of ten or eleven, but he just assumed he retired.  The old firehouse was down around South 21st Street, and the man was always walking east from S. 17th St.  With all of the local grocers, churches, shoemakers, theaters, etc., people could live six short blocks from one another in 1950’s South Side and never meet.

Life went on.  After graduating high school in 1961 Dad worked in downtown Pittsburgh at a few places and then decided to join the United States Navy in mid-1960’s.  He came back home from the Navy in 1968 and continued living with his parents right off of the main street that runs through the South Side, East Carson Street.  After being in Hawaii for two years one would think Dad would complain about coming back to a congested house in a congested neighborhood, but the constant buzz of cars, trucks and trains twenty-four hours a day didn’t bother him since he grew up in that environment.

It was a Monday night in October, 1970.  Dad knew this because it was the first year ABC aired NFL’s Monday Night Football and he went out with a few friends to watch the game.  It was probably the fourth or fifth Monday game because Dad remembered wearing a light jacket that night.  The bar was on East Carson in between S. 14th and S. 15th Street.  After the game was over around midnight, Dad set off east toward home, which was between S. 18th and S. 19th Street.  The usual midnight buzz was around the neighborhood at the time, with trucks driving to and from the steel mills and workers walking to and from hospitals, steel mills and other jobs that required a nighttime presence.

Dad said it recently stopped raining that night when he set out for home, so a slight fog was in the air.  With no wind in the air, it made for a nice walk home despite the oncoming changing of the seasons.  He was walking alone because his other friends either stayed at the bar after the game, or lived in a different direction.  He couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment, but when Dad started walking down East Carson with his head down, he noticed everything was quiet.

The constant midnight buzz that I mentioned (and witnessed myself in early 1980’s) was silent.  Dad picked his head up to see no street traffic, no pedestrians, no sounds of trains, nothing.  Quiet.  Up ahead on the same side of the street, Dad saw a silhouette of a person coming toward him.  The wind suddenly picked up.  As the person got closer, it was clear that it was an older man in his sixties with unkempt silver hair and he was wearing a long overcoat that was unbuttoned and flapping in the wind. He had a hurried gait like he was walking urgently without having to run to his destination.

Right before they crossed paths, Dad looked at the man.  He looked familiar but he didn’t know why.  The man then said, “Good evening.”

Dad replied in the same fashion, and in the few seconds after this encounter he figured out how he knew this person–from the voice of the man.  It was the old firefighter from when he was a boy!  But there was so much that was different about him from what he remembered!  The voice was the same, but his hair was wildly out of control.  He had the overcoat with the gold buttons but it wasn’t neatly buttoned as it used to be.  The gait was the same, but the calm pace that the firefighter used to walk with was replaced with a pace of desperation.

Dad was also amazed that he didn’t age.  The firefighter should have been around eighty by now and he was walking very fast for a person that old.  When Dad turned around the catch up with the man, there was nobody there.  A few seconds prior, they crossed paths in the middle of a block and now, the mysterious man had vanished.  No businesses were open to enable a quick getaway off of the sidewalk and no apartment doors were nearby to quickly escape the cool weather.

While standing on the sidewalk in disbelief, Dad noticed that the wind that accompanied the man had dissipated, there was still fog outside (which didn’t make sense because the wind should have killed off the fog), people were walking all over the sidewalks again and all of the car, truck and train traffic had returned.

Dad continued to walk those same South Side streets until 1973 but he never saw the firefighter again.  He was never afraid during that strange encounter in 1970.  Dad felt that the firefighter wanted him to know that he remembered those innocent encounters years ago and was giving him a final goodbye before moving on.

October 1997: The Party At “Slim’s House”

Nineteen years ago this month I arguably had the strangest house party experience of my life and it had nothing to do with sex, drugs, beer, fire or some form of property damage.

There was this guy my friend Amy occasionally hung out with and my circle of friends knew him because he would occasionally pop in when my group would go out drinking.  I’ll call him “Slim” for this story.  Slim was a fat schmo who was arrogant, condescending, sloppy, cheap and a consistent jerk for no good reason.  I still remember Slim going out for chicken wings with us and always ordering french fries with a water.  I’m a “go big or go home” type of person when going out for food and drinks, so I thought he was an asshole just based on his food order.  I was never the sucker who would buy Slim a beer.

My friend Dave and I worked with Amy and she told us that we were invited to go a party at Slim’s house.  Apparently Slim had a new house and my cynical self was telling me that Slim wanted to show off his bachelor pad to EVERYBODY HE COULD because he wanted everyone to know who was boss even though he looked like total garbage.  How ironic.  Even though Dave and I couldn’t stand Slim, we agreed to make an appearance out of pure curiosity.  At least Slim would serve all the french fries and water we could eat and drink.

The party took place on a Friday night in mid-October.  I drove with Dave in his car and we got to Slim’s about an hour after the party started.  When we got inside we saw Amy, Slim, a few other friends of ours and about fifteen other people that I didn’t know.  The home was built in the 1950’s, a typical small suburban ranch house like many that were carved out in Pittsburgh’s south hills post World War II.  It was a good size for Slim but it was very small to house a family in.  The strange part about Slim’s house was the decor.  I didn’t ask, but most of the furniture was old.  Not retro chic old but 1970’s tacky old.  I assumed the furniture came with the sale of the house, so I grabbed a beer and hung out with Dave, Amy, Jill (from the “Rocker Girl” tale) and Jill’s boyfriend Jerry (whaa whaaaah).

About thirty minutes in, Dave and I overheard a conversation from a few guys that were coming up from the basement.  Apparently the basement was finished with a large television down there, and Slim had a Sony Playstation hooked up to it.  Some of the guys were taking turns playing Madden 98, which was and still is the best American football video game franchise produced.  Becoming bored with the conversations upstairs, we ducked out and descended the stairs to see if we could play a game against each other.

The room was simple but nice, with plenty of seating and good lighting.  There were four college age guys sitting around, two playing the game and two watching the game play.  Since the 1998 version was fairly new, Dave and I wanted to view the game even if we killed the vibe in the room.  Usually when guys get together to play video games everybody is loud and throwing snacks at each other.  These guys were quiet and calm while we sat around with them.

After the game was complete, we were asked by the four guys if we wanted to play since they were all heading back upstairs.  We agreed to take over the game and decided to play the longest amount of minutes per quarter since we were anticipating a few more people wanting a turn.  We wanted to get our thirty to forty minutes in and be done with it for the night.

About forty minutes later Dave and I completed our game, but there was nobody waiting to use the game console.  Having lost faith in the atmosphere upstairs at Slim’s, Dave and I fired up another game.  An hour (and a few beers) later, we apparently started to make a noticeable amount of noise.  In our eyes, Dave and I were just being typical twenty-one year old’s playing video games.  Slim came downstairs to see what the commotion was about.

“GUYS!  I don’t care if you play down here, but you have to be quiet.”

Dave and I looked at each other, confused.  I spoke up.

“Slim, what’s the big deal?  We’re just down here by ourselves playing Madden.  Why does anyone upstairs care about how much noise we are making down here?”

“Because my grandmother is sleeping in the other room.”  Slim points at a door on the other side of the basement.

Dave and I looked at each other again.  Dave had this look of both confusion and amazement  while I could not wipe the smirk off of my face.  I tactfully replied for the both of us.

“Oh, okay Slim.  Sorry, we didn’t know she was there.”

Slim went back upstairs, and we immediately started laughing uncontrollably.  Of course, we were laughing uncontrollably QUIET.  We finished our second game and went back upstairs.  We wanted to share the hilarious news that Slim’s grandma was sleeping in the basement, that it wasn’t Slim’s house and the party was lame, but we didn’t say anything to our friends until the next day.  Me, Dave and some twenty-five other people went to a house party…at Slim’s grandmother’s house.

So the revelation of Slim’s grandmother holed up in the basement confirmed why all of the old furniture looked like something my grandparents would have owned, why those four guys were acting so reserved in the basement and that Slim was indeed a poser.  He made it sound like the house was his, and we discovered the truth when we played drunken video games in his grandma’s basement.  I mean WHO THROWS A HOUSE PARTY IN THEIR GRANDMOTHER’S HOUSE!?!?!  Slim does.

Dave and I left the party pretty quick after our conversation with Slim.  We went to a local bar where a lot of jolly older guys hung out and told tall tales and laughed at each other for hours.  On this night we had our tall tale to share with them, and we didn’t disappoint them.  They never heard of anybody doing what Slim pulled that night.

 

 

Rockin’ The Dad Bod

When I’m in blog land or jumping on Twitter (Facebook free since 2013!), I find it humorous when I hear a parent complaining that they cannot find time to lift weights, run, do yoga, etc.  It’s not because I’m a hater, it’s because it sounds like the parents I speak of are going to transform into a slob overnight if they can’t find time to do what they want.  Those darn kids, they can really take up your free time!

Holy crap people.  Having kids means sacrifice.  Well, it’s supposed to anyway.  My wife and I both work during the day so when we have our son in the evening, we enjoy spending those four to five hours each day with him.  Even if he throws tantrums.  Even if he throws blocks at my head.  We take turns getting daily chores done, but we are always falling behind on a few tasks.  It’s not because we have a ton of things to do, it is because we would rather sit on the couch and read a book with our son.  I sit on the floor so much with my son I find myself sitting on the floor when I’m alone watching television.  We have fun with him and he has fun with us.  We are both there for him as much as life allows.

Before this post turns into an annoying rant, I’ll pump the brakes and have some fun regarding the first two paragraphs.  I’ll recall a moment in time when my wife and I were a couple, then compare that moment to a current situation now that we are a family.  Here I go:

August 2011 – My wife and I played tennis two or three nights a week.

August 2016 – My wife and I are weak from playing with our son two to three hours a night.

All of 2012 – I would lift weights in the basement using my new bench that my wife bought for me.

All of 2016 – My wife bought many things for our son in 2015 and stacked many items on top of my weight bench.  I think I can see it down there again since I moved some boxes from that area of the basement.

Most of 2012 – I would run around our neighborhood three to four nights during the warmer months.  Nothing crazy, about 10-15 miles per week.

Most of 2016 – I run around our yard with my son three to four nights a week during the warmer months.  It’s crazy, he’ll circle the house 10-15 times per night.

As I mentioned in some of my other posts, my wife makes the money and I find work that fits into our schedule.  I don’t make much money, but I rarely work weekends.  I don’t have a prestigious title at my job, but my job allows me to see my family every day.  In my first year of employment at my new job, I’ll have 21 paid days off.  In America, many people can work 20 years or more at a company and not get 21 paid days off.  These days with a young son growing up before my eyes, I’ll take time over money.

When my son gets older, I’ll work myself back into a decent looking shape.  I look forward to turning my man boobs back into fresh elderly pecs.  I know my abs are still in there somewhere, but I have more important responsibilities to attend to right now.  I’ll find my abs in 2021 or 2022.

When I was under age 25 I was chasing my dreams.  Between 25 and 34, I was chasing a career.  From 34 to 39, I was chasing the money.  Now at 40, I’m chasing my son.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Fuel Pump: A sign from God in 2008

In April of 2008, my wife finished up the classroom portion of her doctorate in physical therapy.  We moved about 60 miles away from Pittsburgh for her to go to school while I found a job in the local town to help pay the bills.  When it was time for us to move back home, I had problems finding a full-time job.  This was due to the economy being sour at this time and my resume still having an address from 60 miles away.

I held on to my job far from home until I took a position with a fire protection company in the east suburbs of Pittsburgh.  I was just happy to find something local after driving 110 miles round-trip each time I had to work back in the town we temporarily moved to.  Gas prices at the time were an astonishing $4.00 a gallon and I put on a year’s worth of miles on my car in three months.  After paying bills, my net savings per month averaged a loss of $70.  I was putting $300 to $350 of gasoline into my car per month, so I was looking forward to saving money again.

An acquaintance named Tom was responsible for me landing this job.  He installed, repaired and replaced Ansul fire suppression systems that are attached to kitchen hoods.  I never held a job where I had to be capable of using a variety of tools, but in a few months I was able to complete tasks without too much supervision.  I was even allowed to take a work van home with me after 60 days of employment.

During the interview process I was told that the job would have a variety of hours since the company had to work around the needs of the client.  I was fine with that since I didn’t have any family obligations yet.  It was to be a standard 40-hour work week with occasional overtime, and 90% of the work would be within a 75-mile radius of Pittsburgh.

In the first two months, the job description stayed true to what I was told from the beginning.  I would work with Tom each day and on longer runs we would meet at a location and drive to a site in Tom’s work van.  I worked 40 hours a week and the only location that was beyond 75 miles was a diner in Moundsville, West Virginia.  If we completed a job out in the field, our boss “Steve” would inform us of our new job for the next day by 5 p.m. via cell phone.

Around the second week of September, the job took a drastic turn.  Steve would occasionally call me after 5 p.m. to inform me that there was no work for the next day.  The jobs that were supposed to be local became further away from Pittsburgh.  Four job sites were over 200 miles away.  One was outside of Philadelphia in West Grove, another site was north of Baltimore in Rising Sun, Maryland.  West Grove was 262 miles from my home, a six hour drive one way, five hours if I didn’t hit traffic or construction delays.  When Tom and I would take his work van on long runs like this, he had satellite radio.  When one of us would sleep in the passenger seat the driver always had something to listen to in the desolate Pennsylvania mountains.  We would drive out to the site, work four hours and drive back home.  The company would pay us both 16 hours a day each time we made these long trips, so we tried to work fast just so we could get back home at a reasonable time.

Since I was the new guy, I got the oldest work van.  It had all the basic accessories for a common work vehicle including the radio.  It had no compact disc player so when I got away from civilization, I had nothing to listen to while driving.  Using earbuds wasn’t an option since the van was very loud when driving on the highways.  I needed to hear traffic around me, especially when large trucks were recklessly speeding everywhere.

Occasionally Tom and I had to take both vans on long runs because we couldn’t smash all of our materials into one vehicle.  When driving in rural areas for long periods of time, I was alone with my thoughts while growing more frustrated with how this job was evolving.  At this point I started doing something that I never did before: I started talking out loud to nobody!

What I was actually doing was praying to God in the form of a normal (!) conversation.  I expressed my fears, hopes, gratitude and anger about what I was doing in that time of my life.  It became a form of meditation and it allowed for some self-analysis when cutting across the Appalachian Mountains.  My biggest fear concerning work was breaking down far away from home and not obtaining support from the home office.  After months of observing the lines of communication between different departments, I was sure to fend for myself if I encountered a problem on the road.

In the first week of November Tom and I had a job at a school cafeteria renovation in a town called Homer City.  It was a two day job and on the second day we completed everything by lunch, so we decided to head back to the main warehouse and re-stock our vans while we had some time to do it.  We got back to headquarters around 2 p.m., parked our vans and started refilling our supplies.

At about 3 p.m., we were ready to head home and I went to start my van…it wouldn’t kick over.  I tried a few more times and it wouldn’t start.  When I informed Steve of what was going on he told me to swap out my supplies and put them into a pickup truck they had sitting at the shop.  Steve accused me of not keeping enough fuel in the vehicle and causing the stall out.  I knew I kept enough fuel in that van, and I thought his finger-pointing was childish and what I call a “very dick move”.

When my van was towed to the repair shop the shop manager informed Steve that my fuel pump was shot.  In pure Steve form, he never apologized for placing the blame on me for the van failure when it was purely due to the age of the vehicle.  It had 113,000 miles on it at the time and most fuel pumps can freeze up at around 100,000 to 125,000 miles.

When fuel pumps die, they provide no warning of an impending failure.  After all of the long runs I took in that van at all hours of the day, for it to die RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE MAIN WAREHOUSE is remarkable.  I announced to God my fear of being stranded on the side of the road a few weeks prior, and at this moment in time the inevitable van failure occurred at home base.  It was God’s way of saying, “Hey Larry, I hear your concerns about the organizational structure at your current employer and I agree with you.  They will leave you stranded, but I will not.  I’ll make sure their ineptitude doesn’t affect your life in a negative way.”  I left that job in December for an office job.

Many people pray in a ritualistic manner but I prefer to keep my conversations with God informal.  Whatever angelic forces that are assigned to my case file, I thank you for listening to my one person talks over the last eight years.  I never intended to creep out all of you.

My High School Homecoming Disaster of 1993

(BLOG NOTE: I’m sorry this tale is so long, but it is what it is.)

In my senior year of high school I had two extra elective courses on my schedule due to completing my requirements for science and math during my junior year.  One class was drafting (technical drawing) where I met my first long-term girlfriend and the other was home economics.  “Home Eck” had about twenty students in it, and I was one of two guys in the class.  The room had seven tables with four chairs at each table.  I sat next to my friend Barb, who worked at the neighborhood McDonald’s with me.  Across from us were her friends Jen and Sara.  In early October, Jen started a conversation prior to class about a friend that couldn’t find a date for the homecoming dance in mid-October.  I’ll call her friend “Millie” for this story.

At the time I wasn’t dating anybody.  To be completely accurate, I never dated at all.  I had bad acne between 7th and 11th grade and socially I was immature and awkward during that same time period.  I also had no style, no money and no direction.  So in hindsight I can see why the girls stayed away from me for so long.  All of the senior girls wouldn’t date me because they assumed I was the same person they were around the last three years.

Millie came to our school in her junior year.  I saw her around school but I never talked to her before.  We had 1,200 students in our high school, so it was easy to attend four years there and not interact with someone (I actually met a girl at my graduation because our last names kept us next to each other in the procession line).  Since Millie didn’t see me before 11th grade, I knew I had a chance to go to the dance with her.

“Hey Jen, I’ll go with Millie if she can’t find anybody.”

“OK, I’ll let her know.”

THE BLIND AUDITION

About ten days went by, and the possibility of me going to homecoming with Millie seemed slim since I did not get a confirmation from Jen that Millie wanted to go with me.  I saw Millie a few days prior but she didn’t go out of her way to talk to me, so I assumed she found a date.  With this moment in mind, I thought Jen was avoiding the topic with me because she felt bad that my offer was rejected by Millie.  The dance was on Saturday night and here it was Tuesday, so I decided to carry on with my normal routine for the remainder of the week.

On Thursday night I stopped by McDonald’s to check my schedule for next week.  When I came in the door, I saw Barb behind the counter.

“Hey Barb!  All ready for Saturday?”

“Yeah, how about you Lar?”

“Oh, I’m not going.  I didn’t find a date.”

“Um, YES YOU DID!!!  You said you would go with Millie!  She already has her dress!  You HAVE to go now!”

Stunned, I explained to Barb that I would have gone if she could not find anybody.  Apparently Jen took my answer as an automatic yes, and Millie was content on going with me.  Millie had spent money on the dress, shoes, etc., and I had no decent clothes to wear to homecoming.  It was a good thing I ran into Barb that night, because Millie might have gone to homecoming alone.  If Millie walked in by herself, the mean girls would have preyed on her and I would have been locked in the “Friend Zone” by all of the girls until the end of high school.

I cut school that Friday to buy shoes and clothes.  I had no flippin’ clue what was trendy in regards to dress clothes, so I tried to keep my look basic in case I made poor fashion choices.  Having said this, the first thing I bought was a $40 pair of black WINGTIP shoes.  In 1993 this look wasn’t completely “old man” yet, due to the mid-nineties fad of swing music bands.  At least I wore them for the remainder of the nineties without TOO MUCH ridicule.  The rest was plain: Black pants, white shirt, black tie.  After three hours and $95 spent, I was ready to hit the flower shop.

I got a nice corsage for $15 considering it was the day prior to the dance.  When I got home, I called Jen to get Millie’s phone number and to find out when I was going to pick up everybody.  My car at the time was one of the cooler rides with its chrome wheels and sunroof, so I didn’t mind showing it off.  I was responsible for my expenses, so I was already out $110 before talking to Millie!  This was to be my most expensive blind date of my life, and it was my first one ($110 in 2016 dollars is about $185)!

Friday night I talked to Millie on the phone.  We talked for over an hour until my dad needed to make a call to my grandmother (remember, no cell phones then young whippersnappers).  Out of all the teenage phone conversations I ever had with girls, this one was the most engaging.  It was like I knew Millie already.  We laughed, shared the usual high school gossip tales and she even let down her guard and told me about an old family tragedy.  I was really touched that Millie would share such personal information with me and it came across that she was interested in me.  I made sure she knew that I was coming by her house with Jen and Jen’s boyfriend Bill around 6 p.m. Saturday to pick her up.

I headed over to Jen’s house at 5 p.m. to meet her and Bill.  I met Jen’s parents and immediately Jen takes me into the bathroom.  Apparently my hair didn’t look very appealing so she remade my hairstyle.  I didn’t mind because she made it look better.  It was an odd start to the night, but I wasn’t used to the correct protocol concerning school dances and fixing my hair to be neat.  After Jen and Bill took photos with their families, we went to pick up Millie.

THE BATTLE ROUND

We got to Millie’s house at 6 p.m. and I met Millie and her family.  Everyone at the house took photos of both couples and I was aware by 6:15 that this wasn’t going to work.  Millie was ignoring me to the best of her ability and the outgoing, interesting girl I spoke to on the phone 24 hours ago was gone.  I assumed she didn’t like the way I looked, but I know she had seen me at school before!  Maybe Jen should have kept my hair the same way?!?

We left Millie’s house at 6:30 because Bill had a friend that was of legal drinking age that was going to buy us beer.  We met him at the store to buy a 24-pack and since I was driving, I would get to keep the leftovers.  Since Jen and Millie hated beer, the plan switched to a new lemon-lime malt beverage that hit the market a few months back: Zima.

Yes, flippin’ ZIMA.  Since Coors quit making Zima in the US years ago (thank God), I would describe the taste of Zima this way:  Take a Smirnoff Ice and pour it into a pint glass.  Next, take a piss in the toilet.  Next, take a double-shot glass and fill it with the piss water from the toilet, adding it to the Smirnoff Ice.  Stir and enjoy.  Lucky me got the leftovers.  They sat in the trunk of my car for weeks until I got rid of them.  At this moment I wasn’t sure which house we were going to party at after the dance.  My main concern was if Millie would actually stay with me at homecoming.

When we arrived at the dance, Millie saw a few guy friends that I didn’t know.  They were better-looking than I was and she was having a good time talking to them.  I figured this was the moment where I would be left to fend for myself among all of the couples.  I was really disappointed how this night was shaping up.  I was kind enough to take Millie, to drive her, Jen and Bill to homecoming and I was staring isolation in the face.  I sat quiet, alone, thinking about leaving the three of them at the dance and taking my shitty box of Zima bottles and using them as bowling pins.

After about ten minutes of loneliness, Millie came back to me and we talked to a few other couples besides Jen and Bill.  Millie danced fast and slow songs with me throughout the night, and all of a sudden things were a little less awkward between us.  Jen and Bill were ready to crack open some more Zima bottles (HOO-frickin-ray), so the four of us left homecoming around 10:15 just before the dance ended at 10:30.

THE KNOCKOUT ROUND

When we got back to my car, I asked Bill where I was going.  Bill told me to head over to a main road west of Pittsburgh so he could ask what the nightly rates were.

“Bill, are we getting a hotel room to booze it up?  I thought we were going to somebody’s house!”

“Well, yeah, those plans fell through, so we are going to see how much money it is for rooms.”

“Rooms?!?”

“Well, you and Millie get your own room.  You can party with us until at least 2 a.m.”

This blind homecoming date was becoming more complicated by the minute.  I’m not even sure if Millie liked me, and now we were going to share a bed on the first night we met?!?  Between our phone conversation Friday night and now there was no even ground with her.  She would either show interest in me or none at all.

Including taxes, each room was $61.  I had to pay for our room because Millie didn’t have any extra money for it.  She was just as surprised as me about our post-dance plans.  The four of us drank in Jen and Bill’s room until 2 a.m. and decided to split up after a noise complaint was called in on us.

When Millie and I entered our room, the tension and the awkwardness between us was tangible.  When we changed into more comfortable clothes for sleeping, she went into the bathroom and I changed near the bed.  We were both tired, so we didn’t turn on the television.  We actually stayed up and talked for an hour on the bed.  Being seventeen at the time, if Millie wanted to have sex I would have said yes, but I’m glad we didn’t do anything.  I didn’t bring sex up at all because at times during the night she seemed pissed to be stuck with me!

Millie and I went to sleep and I woke up around 7:30 when I heard a crash by our door.  It turned out to be our complimentary newspaper so I stayed up to read the sports section.  Millie stayed in bed until about 9:30.  I think she was awake based on her breathing but I didn’t look her way.  If she wanted to avoid me I wasn’t going to make things anymore awkward than they already were.  The four of us left the hotel around 10:45, stopped at Wendy’s for some hamburgers at 11:00 and then headed for home.

Dropping Millie off at her house was uneventful because I told everyone that I was supposed to be at work for a 12 to 4 shift.  After I basically tossed everyone out of the car at their houses, I took off for home, called my work to tell them I was on the way in, and worked a 12:30 to 4:30 shift that Sunday.  When I got home from work that day, I showered and went to sleep early.  I ended up sleeping fourteen consecutive hours since the adrenaline finally wore off from the last few days.

THE STEAL (THE AFTERMATH)

I drove Jen and Millie home from school a few times after the homecoming dance took place, but I could tell Millie really wanted to move on from me.  I quit calling her two weeks after the dance and I never spoke to her again.  Not because I avoided her, but fate kept us apart during our senior year.  I didn’t have a lunch period, study hall, co-ed gym class or lab with her, which was stunning since we were both taking the same caliber of classes.

Other people noticed that Millie was ignoring me after homecoming and I was glad to have friends show support for me after what went down.  One particular girl in my drafting class was really pissed at how Millie treated me.  This girl was “Peach”, my first long-term girlfriend (I mentioned Peach in my leather pants tale from a few months back).  Peach and I started dating in late 1993 and we finally broke it off in late 1999, with the last two years being on and off.  The $200 I spent last-minute on homecoming wasn’t in vain after all.  Peach witnessed my loneliness at the dance when she was with her date and she wanted to leave with me instead of the guy she came with.  If I would have known what Peach was thinking, maybe this tale would have been even better.  It might have included desertion of friends, sex in a tub filled with piss-water Zima (eww, not really) and an early start to a relationship that shaped my life going forward for the better and for the worse.

 

WARNING: Parenthood may result in “fluffiness”

(BLOG NOTE:  Since I’m watching my son more often over the next several days, I’ve decided to post a “fluffy” tale before delving into another mind-bending post of what the kids would call “awesomeness”.  You’re welcome.)

A year before my son was born, I was still pretty active despite venturing further into the dreadful 35-44 age bracket.  This age group is the transitional period between hanging onto your youth and the new challenge of realizing your body’s limitations.  Up until my early 30’s, I could go several days without exercising and not lose results.  I had no problem keeping up with where I left off.  Now at 40, forget it.  Now as a parent, really forget it.

I’m not a total mess.  Yet.  I still have three pairs of mesh shorts that I purchased in 1996.  They are now stretched out to the point that they won’t fit me when I lose the weight, but I have to say we had a good twenty year run (I have shorts older than some of my readers).  I still manage to follow the main guidelines of the Pittsburgh Yinzer diet, which consists of the following food groups:

Milk, Meat, Vegetable, Fruit, Grain, Fried Food, Soda Pop, Coffee, Beer, Wine, Spirits, Doughnut, Birthday Cake, Catholic Fish Fry Friday and Fire Hall Wedding (rigatoni with meatballs, fried chicken, macaroni salad, some type of potato dish and rolls with butter)

When my son was born, many healthy aspects of my life became a low priority, and rightfully so in my eyes.  Obviously sleep became fractured, I consumed WAY more caffeine, I chose snacking over having a real dinner and I also chose catching up on sleep instead of using any leftover spare time to exercise.  These four factors led to my chest becoming boobs, my waist showing a small beer belly, my legs becoming thin and my face looking a little rounder than before.

Even after two bouts of kidney stones (due to too much Mountain Dew soda pop) and all of the illnesses acquired from day care the last few years, I wouldn’t change a thing.  Being a dad is the best thing that happened to me.  My son loves it when I chase him all over the house, when I take him for walks around the neighborhood, when I pick him up if he needs a hug and when I sit with him reading, playing with toys or watching television.  He’s getting heavier and I carry him for at least an hour each day.  At least my arms and shoulders are still somewhat beefy.

I’m a new dad, recently unemployed, out of shape, scared about the future and frustrated.  To remain positive, it could be said that I’m a hipster stay-at-home dad who is weighing his options before embarking on a new career path.  I’m also self-aware of life’s everyday challenges and that the path I have walked until now has not been in vain.

Hey, whatever.  I’ll figure it out.  Somehow, I always do.

Rocker Girl: My moment with a Pittsburgh 9

(BLOG NOTE:  I know the title sounds shallow, but please remember that I am a schmo.  If you are scoring at home, a Pittsburgh 9 is equivalent to a New York/London 8 and a Los Angeles/Paris/Milan 7.  Any city smaller than Pittsburgh would have scored this girl a 10.)

My previous tale about going to bars and clubs sparked a memory that could be categorized as my moment of oblivious joy.  An oxymoron yes, but once I’m done telling this tale, you’ll see why I say this.

Last post I mentioned how my friend Dave and I used to drink on the South Side of Pittsburgh.  One night in the fall of 1997, we went to Dee’s Cafe with a group of people from our work.  Dee’s was always a good place to start the night since drinks were cheaper than most places in the neighborhood.  The problem was that many other groups started their night there as well, so acquiring drinks from the bar was usually a headache since you had to wait so long to get the attention of a bartender.  To alleviate my time waiting for beer, I always grabbed two each time I fought my way to the front.

Dee’s was two floors and shaped like a U downstairs.  It had an entrance on each side of the downstairs, but you had to enter through the door to the right, which brought you into the bar side of the downstairs.  The bar was the longest in the South Side.  It was shaped like a J, with the curved part near the front door.  This little alcove was where many of the regulars sat and where the local celebrities (Usually band members after a gig) sat when they stayed on the bottom floor.  The upstairs was spacious with full-size pool tables and a smaller bar, but it was really stuffy and there was less room for the cigarette smoke to circulate (No restrictions on smoking in bars in 1997!).

On a busy night when we finally received all of our drinks from the bar, my group usually walked to the back of the first floor and made our way to the quieter side of the U.  The left side had three bar-size pool tables, bar tables and four seats at each table along the far wall.  No bar, but if we had our drinks, we didn’t care since we were probably leaving soon anyway.  On the night of my encounter with a “Pittsburgh 9”, we stayed on the right side for drinks 3 and 4, and it was really getting crowded in Dee’s.

On my own, I noticed there was an open chair toward the front end of the bar.  I walked up to the chair and asked the girl to my left if I could sit there to get a few beers.  She told me that nobody was sitting there, and after I sat down I started a conversation with her that I had no expectations of making a lasting one.

“I figured if I’m going to wait fifteen minutes for my next two beers I might as well get a front row seat for the request.”

She laughed.  “Yeah, this place can get crazy on the weekends.  Are you here with anybody?”

“Yeah, they are all toward the back trying to wave their money at anybody behind the counter.  Even the bar backs are getting an earful from them.  Are your friends back there with them?”

She pointed behind us at a cluster of people who all had drinks and talking to one another.  “My friends bumped into a few friends that I don’t know, so I stayed here to save our spot at the bar.”

“Well I’m glad I can keep you company among the madness in here.  I’ll give you back your chair when I get my beers, whenever that will be.”

Her response shocked me, and I suddenly forgot all about ordering beers.  “It’s cool that you’re here sitting with me, they (Meaning her friends) won’t mind.  I’m Nikki by the way.”

Nikki was easily the most beautiful girl I ever saw in Dee’s.  She had shoulder-length wavy black hair, a plain white top with a chic black leather jacket, jeans and black boots.  To paint a picture for you, she looked like Selena Gomez with the personality of Elizabeth Banks.

To explain what I looked like then will take a few references since the first one might not sound familiar to many people.  I actually looked a lot like Jay Mohr back then, since I still had my hair and my chest muscles didn’t become boobs yet.  For a more modern reference, give Charlie Puth 90’s hair and mix in Rupert Grint.  Yeah, I was definitely floating between a 5 and a 6.  So for me to be seen talking to Nikki was a victory already.

Now that I had the information that I was welcome to sit with her there, I remained in that seat after I got those two beers.  For roughly the next ten minutes after I got my drinks, we small talked about a few topics and we were both laughing it up pretty good.  At one point, Nikki actually reached out to touch my arm!  This isn’t supposed to be happening to me!

Right when our conversation started taking off and I was inching in closer to Nikki, my friend Jill from work rushed to the front.  Jill grabbed me around my shoulders and almost knocked me off the bar chair.

“Larry, we have to go NOW.  Come with me to the back.  HURRY UP!”

“Why?  What’s….!?!  It was nice talking to you Nikki!  Have a good night!”

Nikki looked shocked at first but I think she understood what was going on, based on information that I didn’t receive yet.  “You too Larry.  It was nice meeting you!”

Jill had me by the hand.  For her to make a run to the front to get me was confusing.  Why didn’t my guy friends come get me?  Why didn’t her boyfriend come get me?  What was so urgent that I had to flee the main bar area?

When Jill and I made it to the left side of the bar, we stayed in the back for a few minutes.  She told me that everybody in our group noticed that all of the band members from (A famous local band in Pittsburgh) and their friends were looking upon me with hatred.  Apparently one of our friends pointed out that I was talking to the lead singer’s girlfriend, and he wasn’t looking very happy (What a puss I say, he should have told me to go and I would have been alright about it).  The guys were afraid if they went up to get me, it might have caused a fight to start and we would have been kicked out for good.  The local band could have stabbed all of us and we still would have been in the wrong.  That’s why Jill came to get me.

Still stunned at this news, I thanked Jill for uh, saving me.  I knew I was way over my head anyway.  Unless money is a contributing factor, you never see relationships work where the imbalance in the appearance “rating” is at or beyond +/- 2.  I was lucky if I was a 6, so there was no way Nikki as a 9 wanted anything to do with me.  The ironic part about this tale is that the best moment of the night was being alone with Jill for those few minutes.

I worked with Jill for a few years.  I always had a girlfriend when I worked with her and she always had a boyfriend.  I never questioned her when she dragged me out of that chair that night.  I willfully went with her and held on to her hand as we turned around the back of Dee’s to get to the quieter side.  When she explained to me the possible scenario I was taken away from, we were actually standing face-to-face, holding each other’s hands by our sides.  Jill was way more compatible with me, for me.  She was a 6 for sure and she loved being around my 5/6 ass.

Jill already knew that I drove a shitty fourteen year-old car, still lived with my parents, had no credit, no ambition and hardly any money.  And yet, there she was, going out of her way to corral me back to the group, but allowing for us to be alone with each other.  Her boyfriend was no more than ten steps from us, and when I was with her there that didn’t matter to us.  I could just tell by her eyes and how she was holding my hands.  My girlfriend at that time (Who wasn’t there) couldn’t duplicate the charge of absolute love I felt from that moment with Jill.  Maybe Jill didn’t feel the same way, but if my heart was right on that night, she did too.

If I had to choose a girl from my past that defines, “The one that got away”, it would be Jill.  I never asked her out on a date because of our own relationship ties.  I really believe she would have said yes to me.  We’re together in some parallel universe I’m sure and on that night when I fatefully sat down next to a “Pittsburgh 9”, Jill ended up being a 10.  That’s the score I would have given her anyway.