Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ode to a Hometown

(This is Part Two of Journey to the Center of the Country.  Part One is back there.)

Toledo, Ohio.  Place of my birth.  It's probably not the most glamorous of locations.  According to John Denver, "Saturday night in Toledo, Ohio is like being nowhere at all."  What a dick.

(RlP, John)

I thought Toledo was great growing up.  I had everything I needed to be happy: a big backyard, best friends as neighbors, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool at our nearby swim and tennis club.

My childhood best friend/neighbor (I'll call her "Muppet") and I regularly did what we called "a Toledo tour."  We walked to the end of our street and crawled through a hole in the fence to go hang out at the nearby mall.  Then we crossed the street to K-Mart to buy cheap make-up.  Then we walked to the hotel next door to ride the elevator up to the top floor and look out over the tops of our houses.  We ended our tour at Peaches Records where we bought-- gulp -- some of those fancy new cassette tapes.

We were 12 years old and would disappear for hours, no cell phones, no parents freaking out.  We came home when one of two things happened:  1) our mothers yelled our names out the back door or 2) the street lights came on. 

I remember driving in Toledo.  I thought it was overwhelming to drive in "the city."  Sometimes I had to sit for a full ten seconds before it was clear enough to make a left-hand turn, a period of time during which I would yell, "Oh my God, this is taking forever!"

In Seattle, of course, a person can sit for hours before accomplishing a left-hand turn, if they're ever allowed to make their turn at all.  Most of us give up and instead attempt a sequence of right-hand turns, with mixed results.

I haven't been back to my hometown since Christmas 2000, six months before Alex and I got married.  I'm a sentimental old fool so cried like one when I drove away from our house that last time.  It had been a happy place to grow up and I didn't think I'd ever see it again given my parents' impending move to Colorado.

Then came July 2013 --  HELLO, TOLEDO!   I AM IN YOU!

Ohio Mom and I drove to her parents' house first.  Their house looks the same.  The screen door makes the same sound when it slams.  The kitchen wallpaper is the same, the kitchen table nook is as cozy as it ever was.  I almost went into the den and pulled out the pull-out bed to sleep, as I'd done a countless number of times before.

Ohio Mom's parents were my second set of parents in high school.  My car could automatically drive to their house and I became an expert at avoiding the tree growing through the middle of their driveway.  I spent as much time sitting at their kitchen table talking to them as I did sitting at my own talking to my own.

It was wonderful to see them but Ohio Mom's parents soon laid some unwelcome truth bombs at my feet. Toledo was not the same.  And some of it would be hard to see.

I hugged them goodbye and got back into my car to begin my solo tour.  I started the tour at my high school, which was down the street from Ohio Mom's house.  The only problem was it was no longer there.


The football stadium is still there but it looks small and tired and sad.  Do you know how many hours I spent cheering and yelling in those bleachers?  I had to -- I had a bunch of boyfriends, real and imagined, out on that field.

I was anxious to go see my house.  Ohio Mom's parents had, just minutes before, told me a heartwarming story of a young woman who came to their door not long ago,  She told them she grew up in their house and would like to come in and see it again.  They, of course, let her in because they are wonderful people.  They gave her a tour and some lemonade and were rewarded with an effusive thank-you note several weeks later.

The same thing was going to happen to me.

I held my breath as I turned onto my street.  And then there she was --

That's our house.  That's our big backyard.  Do you know how many ten-year-old cartwheels it takes to get across that yard?  Billions!

Remember the Father's Day post from Paris where I mentioned the ex-boyfriend-inspired bonfire I set on the driveway?  It was right there.

I pulled around front and stared, tears in my eyes, every inch of the house bringing back an overwhelming number of memories and feelings.

Then a woman with mad eyes tore out the front door and yelled in a not-so-nice way,


Oh sh*t

I had to calm myself then, posse, and resist the strong urge to yell back, "THIS IS MY DAMN HOUSE, BITCH,  WE LIVED HERE OVER TWENTY YEARS NOW GET OUT OR DIE!"

I swallowed my true words and instead said sweetly, "Hi.  I grew up in this house.  I'm in town for my high school reunion and wanted to see it again.  I loved growing up in this house, would it be possible for me to come in for just a minute and see it again?

The response came curtly and through falsely smiling teeth:  "No, no, it's not a good time."  Then she went back inside and closed the door.

My heart.  Oh my heart.  Myyyyyy heeeeea.....

I immediately pulled into the driveway of Muppet's parents across the street and after a strong hug went on a vicious tirade about "the newbies."  They confirmed my suspicions -- the people who bought my family home are terrible human beings and will die friendless and alone.

Muppet's parents then delivered some more truth bombs to add to my rapidly growing truth bomb collection.  An important thing to know about Muppet's parents is they will give you the worst news of your life accompanied by raucous laughter so you're never really sure if you're hearing funny news or terrible news.

Muppet Mom:  Do you remember that cute tennis pro at the swim and tennis club? 
Me:  Yes! He was sooo dreamy and so nice.
Muppet Mom:  Well, he was arrested for making lewd phone calls HA HA HA HA.  He called women from a phone booth and pretended to be a Victoria's Secret representative HA HA HA HA.  He asked them progressively more personal questions about their lingerie needs while he masturbated in a phone booth HA HA HA HA.  He was caught in a phone booth with his pants down HA HA HA HA.
Me:  That's..... terrible?
Muppet Parents:  HA HA HA HA HA

Muppet Mom:  Remember that huge pool they had at the club, the one with a starring role in most of your precious childhood memories?
Me:  Yes, of course, it's one of my favorite places on earth!

Muppet Mom:  There was a sinkhole in the middle of North Detroit Avenue last week.  It was huge.  A woman drove right into it.  HA HA HA HA.
Me:  Oh my God, is she OK?
Muppet Mom:  She was the principal of your old elementary school HA HA HA!
Me:, is she OK?
Muppet Mom:  HA HA. Would you like some lemonade?

I left her parents' house and drove to Muppet's house, where I was staying for the night.

This is why I call her Muppet.  She's got a collection problem.

We went to a typical Italian chain-type restaurant for dinner.  I considered ordering the butternut squash ravioli but then wondered aloud, "But it's not butternut squash season so.... where do you think they're sourcing their butternut squash?"  Muppet looked at me over her menu with furrowed brow and said flatly, "They're frozen, honey."

Whoops, I let my Seattle show.

Muppet also has a peculiar way of delivering news but her style is different from her mother's.  Muppet tends to summarize ridiculous situations into one long, flat, emotionless sentence.  Then it's over and she moves on. Here's just a sampling of Muppet bringing me up to speed on Toledo happenings.

Muppet:  Well, you know our friend Angela married our high school math teacher and a professional wrestler was the best man and they held the wedding in the basement of The Spaghetti Warehouse.
Muppet:  So how are the kids?

Muppet:  And our friend Ron -- well, he did five years in prison because he broke into some lady's house but then he walked straight home afterwards so the police just followed his footprints in the snow.  He saw our friend Angela, who married the math teacher, win the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right while he was in prison.
Me:  ...... can we back up a minute?
Muppet:  So do you miss Paris?

Muppet:  Two years ago he burned down the back half of his house with a blowtorch.  We found him with his eyebrows singed off.  We bought him fire extinguishers for Christmas that year.
Me:  I surrender to your crazy-ass ways.
Muppet:  Cool.  Should we get dessert?

Muppet invited our other childhood friend/neighbor over to her house for drinks and jokes later that evening.  I'm going to call him Ant Boy because my most profound memory of him was when we climbed on top of a red anthill and got swarmed.  We started yelling and his mom bolted out of his house, stripped us naked there in the backyard and turned a hose on us.  We were old enough to be embarrassed by it.

Our parents would have been overjoyed to see the children they raised side-by-side all together again so we took a few terrible photos to share the occasion --

The next morning, I suggested to Muppet we do another "Toledo tour!"  She asked, "You sure about that, babe?"  and I said "YES!"  and she said "Brace yourself."

Muppet!  Look!  That's where we crawled through the fence to go to the.....


Then we went to...


The tall hotel?  The one where we could see the whole world from the top floor?

Abandoned.  With broken windows to match broken dreams.

The Peaches Records is gone, too, and apparently no one listens to cassette tapes anymore.

Then there was the biggest hurt of all.  Muppet held my hand as she drove me up the hill to our old swim and tennis club, the place with the Olympic-sized pool so wonderful you can't imagine such a place, even in a drug-addled hallucinatory state.


The pool sprang a leak a couple years ago.  It will cost over a million dollars to fix the problem so the club has decided not to fix it, and instead pave over it and put in new tennis courts.

 This one may hurt even more than the house thing.

I walked around this pool like a bereaved person walks around a cemetery.  It was so quiet.  I remember the summer sounds of this place back in its heyday -- the lifeguards' whistles, the kids shrieking, the sound of wet feet slapping against pavement. There was soft-serve ice cream at the snack counter and ice-cold air conditioning in the club room, where we kids would go when the "adult swim" whistle sounded and we had nothing to do for 15 whole minutes.

If I had a million dollars I would fix it tomorrow.  Alex would agree without hesitation because I'd look at him with my serious scary eyes.

Alex and I texted each other often while we were away.  The kids had a great time in Quebec and he would regularly send me photos and updates.  As my time in Toledo progressed, my response time to Alex's messages slowed considerably.  He became concerned when his texts of, "Hello? You still there?" were answered with "Childhood is a lie" and "I'm staring into gaping holes where my happiness used to be."

The good news is downtown Toledo has experienced a rebirth. There are a lot of people down there walking around and looking happy about it.  There are new restaurants and bars and baseball stadiums, unheard of back in my youth when downtown was a scary and near-deserted place.

Muppet and I went to lunch at one of the nice new restaurants downtown and, in a wonderful stroke of misfortune, Muppet's angry ex-boyfriend was our waiter.  She spent lunch hiding under the table while I apologized for my shy and socially awkward friend and asked for the specials.

Muppet and I both ordered Cobb salads.  The salads came deconstructed and the waiter/ex-boyfriend asked if we would like him to mix the elements together before serving?  I said, panic-stricken, "No, just leave the salads in pieces and go now!" as Muppet kicked me hard under the table.  When she re-appeared in her seat, she said, "I sure as hell wasn't going to ask him to toss my salad."

That night was my high school reunion.  I went back to Ohio Mom's house and we got all dressed up.

After a quick meet-up and drink with our old besties, we headed to the roadhouse bar where the reunion was held.  Only in Toledo, Ohio does a 20-year high school reunion happen at a biker bar. 

Exactly as it should be

You know what's funny?  Everyone looked exactly the same and acted exactly the same. The same people who cracked me up twenty years ago still crack me up.  The ones I have no idea what to do with on a social level are still complete strangers to me.

There was a photo booth and I spent a lot of time in it

The cocky guy from high school walked around telling everyone the doctors needed to use "the biggest clamp they could find" to circumcise his son.  The girl we all knew would get drunk first got drunk first and was cut off at the bar within the first hour.

Is the fact nobody really changes sad? comforting?  disturbing?  I don't know, I'm just reporting the facts.

The best part about high school reunions is the gossip.  There was a lot of whispering about how so-and-so screwed so-and-so a couple years back and his wife retaliated by screwing so-and-so in the back of their minivan.  Toledo may be a small-ish city but believe me, there's some serious Washington D.C-type  sh*t happening there.

I loved it.  It was a paltry turnout given the size of our class --

 Exhibit A

Exhibit B

-- but the people who showed up were good ones.  It was worth it, absolutely worth it, to get back there and see them again.

The next day I said goodbye to Ohio and drove back to Chicago.  I ate a lot of Twizzlers --

And the next morning I flew home, heart full of love for the good people of the Midwest.

Always good to see you again, my dear Rainer.

At one point during our visit, as the truth hit me things were not the way I remembered them, I sighed and said to Muppet's parents, "I guess it's true -- you can't go home again."  Muppet Dad responded, "Well of course you can, just don't expect anything to be the same HA HA HA HA."

Fair enough.

Love you,  Toledo.
Love you, childhood in a sinkhole,

Monday, July 22, 2013

The call of the Midwest

I'm back.  Some glorious strange sh*t went down the past couple of weeks.  It was wonderful.

Al and the kids left Seattle the same day I did.  We departed Sea-tac airport within twenty minutes of each other and just two gates apart.  We sat together until I walked away to board my plane.  That was a sickening moment.  My fear of flying is no secret but that day was worse than usual -- I not only had to worry about my plane but their plane, too.

I didn't sleep much the night before.  I found myself in the uncomfortable position of praying that if one plane had to go down, let it be mine.  I knew I was getting a raw deal in my hypothetical scenario but it was the only way.  My husband and kids could go on without me but the opposite is definitely not true.

My destination was Chicago, theirs was Quebec.  And as planes tend to do, all the planes stayed in the air with no troubles and we all made it to our destinations safely.  Alex was praised on his flight by his fellow passengers for doing such a good job occupying his children.  In reality it was I, the missing mama, who planned for weeks beforehand and strategically packed carry-ons with new sticker books, fully charged movie players, assorted shiny objects and hundreds of baggies full of delicious snacks.

Alex doesn't understand how thoughtfully I set him up for success.  He told me it wasn't hard to keep the kids occupied on the plane.  If we ever do it again, I'm going to pack the kids' bags with a couple old encyclopedias, several crowns of broccoli and some plastic baggies full of air.  Alex will learn things on that flight.

I rode the El into Chicago.  A smelly woman sat next to me.  She got up and left a few minutes later but her smell stuck around.  Then a nicely dressed man sat down next to me but immediately jumped back up looking nauseated and moved off down the aisle.  He thought the smelly woman's smell was my smell.  It was a lonely time.

At the end of the El was my dear college friend, Chicago O.  He came to visit me in Paris, maybe you remember him.  Chicago O immediately asked me if my purse was zipped and if I was wearing my engagement ring as we boarded the city bus.  I said yes, my purse was zipped and no, I wasn't wearing my engagement ring. 

Then I asked what the concern was with the ring.  If I wore it, would people sidle up and rip it off my finger?  Would they cut my finger off with a pocketknife and jump out a window?  Chicago O said no, but someone might see it, follow me off the bus and attack me in an alley later.  Then I was pretty terrified of Chicago.

But in reality the only thing to be afraid of in Chicago was Chicago O.  He nearly killed me with his fast walking and darting into traffic.  I lost him at every crosswalk because he dove into the crowd and started shouldering people hard as if they'd hurt his mama.  He wasn't slowed by my calls behind him, "But I'm from Seattle!  We're a peaceful people!"  He just continued to mutter about all the damn people on his sidewalk.

Chicago O really knows me.  On my first day, he sent me directly to the Driehaus museum.

The Driehaus is an immaculately restored 1879 mansion in downtown Chicago.  It was absolutely my thing.  I hope I didn't damage the gleaming woodwork with my saliva puddles.

Nice house, guy

The sewing room.  You must be joking.

Chicago O left me alone for lunch because he and his dog have mutual separation anxiety issues.  One day he dropped me off at a well-known Chicago pizzeria and I overheard the couple seated next to me discussing how to minimize their caloric intake while eating Chicago style pizza.  They decided to avoid the crust.  I decided they were idiots.

Don't think about calories when you eat Chicago style pizza.
Don't kill your own joy.

After a few days in wonderful glorious Chicago, I rented a car and drove to Columbus, Ohio.  There were other good people waiting for me there.

It was nice the rental car people gave me a car the same color as my dress so I could camouflage myself when I got spooked by the Midwest.  

The drive to Columbus from Chicago was sweaty-palmed thanks to the epic thunderstorms I encountered throughout Indiana.  My windshield wipers were going as fast as they could but visibility was still about half an inch.  I would occasionally hydroplane in a large puddle spreading across the highway.  It wasn't looking good. 

I called upon my dusty Midwestern instincts and did the one thing I remember doing in such circumstances in the past -- I found a large semi truck and rode its taillights to freedom.  I was only going 20 mph but at least I was still moving, unlike all those who panicked and pulled over to the side of the road to wait for the end of days.

I made it.  Back in the home state after 12 years.

I rolled into Dublin, a suburb of Columbus, and into the arms of my best friend from high school, Ohio Mom.  She came to visit me in Seattle not too long ago, maybe you remember her.

The living is good in Dublin.

 Hell yes, Midwest

The reason for my visit to the Midwest was my 20th high school reunion in Toledo, Ohio.  It was the reason I was looking for to get back to my hometown.  My family's been gone from Toledo for 12 years so without the reunion, it's not likely I would have ever returned.

Ohio Mom and I researched who was coming to the reunion and grew concerned when we didn't recognize half the names.  The search then began for Ohio Mom's high school yearbooks.  We wanted to put faces to names before we arrived at the reunion in Toledo and blurted, "Who the hell are you?" 

Ohio Mom and her husband dove into the dark recesses of their storage spaces.  Many dusty boxes were lugged up and down ladders but none of them contained yearbooks.  Most of them contained New Kids on the Block paraphernalia.

Right before I took this picture of Ohio Mom in the back of a surprisingly deep closet, she said, "Ya want a wedding dress?" and threw a petticoat over her shoulder.  Apparently lots of stuff in there.

I left Ohio Mom climbing around in her closet and went to my college roommate's house in another Columbus suburb for dinner.  When I arrived, we shrieked loudly.  It had been 16 years since we last saw each other and she used to be blonde.

Roomie and I invented a game in our dorm room called Obnoball.  I would tell you about it but I don't think you can handle Obnoball.  Not yet.

We also killed a friend's fish once.  We think it was an accident but neither one of us really remembers the details.  We just remember she was pissed.

Roomie's still adorable, bubbly, wonderful, and she cracks me right up.  
 (And she can give an incredible summary of Tecumseh)

The day before the reunion, Ohio Mom and I drove up to Toledo, Ohio.  We never did find those yearbooks.

Next post: Toledo.    

Meanwhile, the news here at Banister Abbey is the aquatic snails we inherited from Lucien's first grade classroom have mated.  Now instead of two big snails we have two big snails and forty tiny snails.  Screw everything.

And Coco's turning into one goofy kid

And the exterior project has begun on the house.  It's really looking lovely, don't you think? --

We are getting used to living in a house wrapped in plastic.  It's as dark and scary as you'd expect.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Two weeks

A man biked past our house this morning.  He was nude.  There was a sign hanging from his handlebars that said, "Hating your body is stupid."

I wish I had a picture of him.  Instead, please accept this picture of... something.

Happy Summer from Seattle everybody!  In our city, the mountains are out, the temps are rising and the people are getting naked.  Sweet wonderful weird Seattle.

I began the summer by stepping on a hoe in the garage while foraging for a paint can.  The handle came flying at me and cracked me right in the forehead.  I stood there flabbergasted for a minute, "Oh my God, that sh*t really happens?"

Looney Tunes = truth bombs

The first two weeks of summer break were devoted to the Loosh.  I handed Coco off every day so Lucien and I could roam the city without her short little legs holding us back.  It's rare for me to have one-on-one time with Lucien.  Coco's always with us or Alex is stealing him away to do "man stuff" which I can only assume involves burping and grunting and possibly hunting buffalo?

For just two weeks, I wanted Lucien to myself.  Because he's thinking all these random awesome thoughts and I'm missing them.  Because he's starting to figure out what sex is all about but is still totally confused by it.  Because he still automatically reaches out for my hand when we walk down the street and I will soak that sh*t up until the second he says "Mom knock it off I'm too old to hold your hand you're embarrassing me oh my god."

(At that moment, I will try to keep a stiff upper lip as my heart breaks quietly inside my chest.)

We covered a lot of ground in two weeks.  Here's a Lucien cell phone picture extravaganza.  I take a picture of him approximately every thirty seconds so comfort yourselves with the knowledge I left hundreds out.

The Fremont Troll under the bridge --

The Loosh in one hand, a Volkswagen in the other

Archie McPhees, where he was introduced to important things like Pop Rocks and Mad Libs and Jesus bobble heads --

Gameworks, where he refused to acknowledge he was still too small for some things --

Beaches and starfish --

Waiting for the bus with festively decorated yet cold and unfriendly people --

Lunches --


Miscellaneous running --

Brain Freeze --

We also bought 36 pet crickets.  They were a reward for Lucien, who's really into bugs, for being a fantastic dental patient.  He had a cavity filled and didn't move a muscle.  That's harder for Lucien than most people.

We purchased the crickets at the pet store in the "reptile food" section.  Our crickets hit the jackpot.  They will not be fed to a snake; instead they will be free to live out their short, meaningless lives on our kitchen counter. 

Having pet crickets is unexpectedly wonderful.  When they chirp, I feel like an eight-year-old on a summer night back in Ohio.  All that's missing are the mosquitoes the size of your fist that can drain your arm of blood in half a millisecond.  I don't miss those damn things.

pet crickets, not snake snacks

We also have two pet aquatic snails which were inherited from Lucien's first grade classroom at the end of the school year.  They are awful because they smell like death at all times.

But I still have to keep feeding them because it's the right thing to do.


Lucien and Alex recently planted some tomatoes and strawberries in the yard.  But Oscar keeps running over them while barking hysterically at dogs on the other side of the fence.  So Lucien is now protecting his plants with stakes and dinosaurs.

There's nothing left in the budget for weed removal

I'm feeling completely in love with my family today because I'm moments away from leaving on vacation without them.  There is both relief and anxiety.  I'm not going to reveal the reason for my trip right now but trust me, it's really going to be something.

Alex is taking the kids to Quebec during the same period of time.  Please wish Al good luck with the two kids on the two flights that take all day.  Poor brave Al.  Oscar and the snails and the crickets will be cared for by our housesitters and neighbors.  That should cover everybody. (?)

Happy 4th of July tomorrow.  Let's go fire up the grill and eat some meat.

(And here's a not-so-subtle clue as to my impending cricket-filled whereabouts) --

My City Was Gone by The Pretenders on Grooveshark

See you on the flipside,
Happy Summer!

Amen, brother