The flatness of Chicago is oppressive. And unmanageable. There’s no elevation to speak of for hours in any direction. There’s that one stupid little mound near Montrose Beach that people clog up in the summer and that’s it until South Dakota. I mean, really, who crosses a mountain range to settle in an onion patch?
Chicago, not a city known for its self-assuredness, overcompensates with architecture and culture and food and nightlife and everything else that makes a city wonderful. It’s an overwhelming performance, and Chicago is a lovely place to live. But to spend a week in a place like Seattle or Los Angeles, where mountains wrap around you like a fucking hug, is to finally see the forest for the trees.
Also, there are a lot more forests and trees in Seattle and LA than Chicago.
The only thing harder than leaving Pittsburgh is going to Pittsburgh. This repellence is well earned. The city has been at times insular, stubborn, backwards, and defensive. But give it a shot. I’m not saying start planning a vacation, because, you know, baby steps. Try simply not dreading your upcoming business trip. Remember that when people call Pittsburgh the Portland of the East, they could also be calling Portland the Pittsburgh of the West. If I had to describe Pittsburgh using wine asshole parlance, I’d say it’s a young yet full bodied city with rugged notes of Williamsburg (Brooklyn, not Colonial, for once), Seattle and Austin, owing its unique flavor profile to a mix of eager, impressionable grapes and older, experienced earth. If I had to describe Pittsburgh using music asshole parlance, I’d say it’s like Hawkwind or Captain Beefheart or Mudhoney; a town that’s influenced much of the urbanity around you, such that you’ll hear echoes of other towns down every street, and like all good main-trunk influence tree bands, it’s already got a kicking back catalogue. If I had to describe Pittsburgh using sports asshole parlance, I’d be shit out of luck because sports assholes have a seven word vocabulary. It’d probably be something like “Let’s go Pittsburgh! *Clap clap, clap clap clap*”
It’s always a treat for me to come back and be able to enjoy those simple familiar pleasures that elude me. It’s doubly nice to see the city thriving, artistically, culturally, even economically. I can’t say for sure that my journeys will ever allow me to claim residence again. But if it does, weep not for me for I go to a better place. Far better than when I left.
Took a trip with my dad about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh to visit the (Perhaps National) Cigar Box Guitar Museum in New Alexandria, PA. Great place. Lots of beautiful cigar box guitars. An 80 year old lady bartender named “Dar” who appears to be sitting on the largest reserve of Kennedy half dollars in existence. Abandon all fear of swill, ye who enter here.
60 miles east of Pittsburgh is pretty unlike 60 miles east of any major city I’ve ever been to. Pittsburgh lies in the Appalachian foothills, so you’re getting into steppe towns, mining towns, mountain and valley folk and the like when you head out that way. It’s called the Laurel Highlands and it’s beautiful country. Nice air. Lots of Mail Pouch Tobacco barns, which make me feel like I’m going on vacation from my old home, if that makes any sense.
Looking at the guitars takes all of 20 minutes if you REALLY take your time, but we ended up staying for an hour and a half making small talk with Dar, reading some of the resident luthier’s book on cigar box guitar construction, and suggesting an airport arrival time to a regular who was very excited about a trip to Florida that afternoon, but apparently had never flown before. Pretty much your standard Pennsyltucky experience.
There was a kid in little league who was angry beyond his years. I assume he saw some hard shit and just didn’t know how to process it without trying to hit people like me.
He grew older, bought a house in the old neighborhood, had some kids of his own, enrolled them in the same little league he ruled with an iron prepubescent fist. Maybe some of those demons grew quiet. Maybe they grew louder. I really have no idea. Either way, he made it on the evening news last night, having been shot in the face through the window of his front porch.
I’m off to watch my young cousin play a little league game at the same field. It’s the kind of thing I really miss being able to do. The little family stuff that distance prevents. The kind of thing that was missing from my childhood tormentor’s life, I wonder? Supposition, of course, and a broad, narcissistic, condescending one at that. But isn’t that what coming home is all about?
Eight-year-old me couldn’t sleep because in five to ten billion years, the sun was going to expand and swallow the Earth.
My Cub Scout troop took a trip to the local observatory where they played a ghastly horror film called “What will actually happen to the universe over the course of time and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.” In it we were subjected to the snuff that is life in our universe. Asteroid impacts, galactic collisions, black holes. Death, by ways conceivable and not. Spaghettification. Heat Death. The great rip. And in our neck of the woods, as the film was VERY KEEN to point out, LONG after man was wiped out by his own hand or that of boiling oceans or ice ages or evolution, our sun will go red giant and engulf the interior planets. It showed an animation of the sun as it consumed the planets, announcing them in bullet point staccato. “Mercury. Venus. And yes, Earth.”
I don’t remember looking into the telescopes that night or seeing pieces of meteorites or anything else physical. I remember learning, in no uncertain terms, that there was an end to this. This universe, which screams “INFINITY” with every fiber of its being, isn’t. Seeing that played out in relative miniature as my planet- the only planet I would ever know- vanished from the record? How could you possibly ever sleep again after that?
The knowledge that not only was our time on Earth limited, but EARTH’S time on Earth was limited would rattle around in my brain for hours upon hours in my bedroom. I couldn’t square with the fact that one day, the ground I was standing on, even if it had been long since rendered unrecognizable, was going to be vaporized. Even as an eight year old, I saw the Earth as my anchor. All the monuments we’ve erected to ourselves to ensure that some record would remain, that people would remember would be for naught.
I called out to my parents the first couple nights. I needed to talk this out. Or cry about it. Basically I just needed to say out loud that this was the worst thing I’d ever heard. My bleary eyed Dad seemed to find it kind of amusing at first. His precocious little boy was having metaphysical crises at a 12th grade level! I like to think he told his work buddies about it the next day and they all had a good laugh at my expense. But by day six or seven of this, Dad needed his sleep.
"I can’t sleep."
"Is this about the sun swallowing the Earth again?"
At this point, knowing that he was getting sick of this, I actually tried lying to him.
"No, it’s about that movie I saw"
He saw through it, and tried to comfort me again and again. Nothing worked. I was having a fucking existential conniption, and they just don’t write about that in childrearing books. After untold dozens of more fruitless exchanges, I got him to yell, literally scream, the most ridiculous thing an adult has ever had to scream at a child at two in the morning:
"It won’t happen for billions, and BILLIONS of years!"
It was cold comfort. Dad just didn’t get it.
Eventually I folded this truth in with the rest of my being. It was like my bar mitzvah. Once I was able to internalize the fleeting nature of our existence, and find peace enough to sleep knowing that everything that ever was and is to be temporary and eventually forgotten, I became a man.
At the tender age of 8.
I’m 99% sure I threw away a million dollars in 1985.
Popsicle® was running a promotion at the time where baseball stuff would be printed at the business end of the stick. The TV ad campaign that spread the word starred a strapping young man with wavy blonde hair, not at all unlike John Schneider, my favorite Duke Of Hazzard. My mental VHS of this commercial is pretty garbled, save for when he takes that one last beauty bite, holds the stick up for all to see and says, instructively, “Home Run.”
Being six and not diabetic, I ate my fair share of Popsicles® that summer, and, being me, I never got a “Home Run”. I don’t think I ever got a double, single, or foul tip. “Please Try Again” became the denouement of every summertime treat.
I’d built up a good disappointment callous by the end of the summer, such that when I ate that fateful Popsicle® with “Grand Slam” upon the stick, I had no idea what it meant. I knew only that it didn’t say “Home Run”, which, according to John Schneider, meant I didn’t win. Into the trash went that trash, which again was all I understood a non-winning Popsicle® stick to be.
At dinner that night, I asked my Dad what a Grand Slam was. He told me. I said, “So that’s better than a home run?!”
I don’t have a strong sense of what may have happened afterwards. I think I remember my parents reading the Popsicle® box, searching for rules and prizes. Sometimes I can picture them looking through the trash, but then I can’t remember if I ate the winning Popsicle® at home or at Nana’s house, which means the story at this point is more projection and assumption than recall.
If I had really, truly thrown away a million dollar Popsicle® stick, I’m sure my parents would have searched the trash with passion and fervor, and not stopped until they found it. I doubt they would have never brought this story up later in life. So it’s more like I’m 1% certain I threw away a million dollars in 1985. But that 1% has become a constant. I can’t shake the sense that I tossed away my once-in-a-lifetime, dumb luck, million dollar chance.
This is why I’ll never win the lottery, which is why I never play the lottery, which means this long-held likely-misremembered anecdote has probably saved me a couple thousand dollars over the years. Yes, it’s at the cost of the hour or so per week the average lottery player spends fantasizing about what they’ll do with their winnings, but I’ve never been wholly comfortable dreaming big anyway. I tend to dream about the things I already have, and how nice it is that I have them.
There’s a sixth installment of the epic car poem ”Fast and Furious” coming out soon. Here’s what you need to know if you’ve never seen a Fast or a Furious movie, but want to see them all in reverse chronological order starting with number six:
1. Air Conditioning, Power Locks, STICKER SHOCK
2. Not The Rock
3. Speed Starring Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper
4. Video Game THRILLS TO THE BONE
5. “check the gate”
6. Rack AND Pinion
6. Extra six
7. Exotic Locations
8. Should be nine
9. Do NOT Try This At Home
Now you’re ready to watch those movies or read those novelizations. ADULTS ONLY!
60 days. 60 Tumblr posts. Part One here, now, wherein I allude to the near life experience of Friday’s meeting, and how I’ve got 60 days left to tread water. Maybe less. Then, I pick a direction and start swimming.
Robert Frost only had two roads in his wood. I’ve got three, four if you count doing nothing. I get Corleoned every time I try to start this med school thing. Life really does seem to be playing hard to get, which is such a waste of everyone’s time.
I’m going to write something here on Tumblr every day for sixty days, because that’s so fucking hard.