On the bike again

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 13, 2013 9:53 PM

When Kevin and I first started dating, I was into biking. I had bought a hybrid several years earlier, shortly after my divorce, and spent many a happy Saturday and Sunday morning merrily riding through the canyons of Calabasas, Malibu and Agoura. Enter Kevin, who wasn’t a cyclist. He had a bicycle, an old 10-speed, that he had somehow procured in his divorce but it had belonged to his ex-wife so it was too small for him. Still, he liked the idea of getting into biking as well so we tooled around a bit, his lanky 6-foot frame on a bicycle built for someone 5’6”.

He ended up liking the idea so much that he also bought a hybrid. For the uninitiated, a hybrid is a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. They were very popular in the early to mid 1990s with people like us buying them because we didn’t really want to ride on trails and we didn’t really want to spend the money for a good road bike.

It was Kevin’s first brand new bike and he was thrilled. He had a bicycle that fit him and it was top of the line for the time. 

The more we rode, the more we enjoyed it and the quicker we realized that the hybrids, as great as they were, just didn’t suit our purposes. We really needed road bikes. We bought our first roadsters around the time we moved in together, in 1997. They were great and we put a lot of miles on them. Road bikes are lighter, with thinner tires and therefore travel much further much more easily. We put so many miles on our new road bikes that we quickly realized, again, that we needed something even lighter. After quite a bit of research, Kevin decided that what we needed were KHS so that’s what we got. 18 speeds, two chain rings so the low gears are more powerful for cranking on the flats and getting some good speed but the high gears don’t give as much ease for climbing. We don’t have what is known in the cycling world as “granny’s.” Granny gears allow someone to sit on their saddle and climb a hill, their legs churning without working too hard and the bike taking virtually forever to get anywhere.

We’ve had the KHS bikes for a number of years now. We used to ride 50 to 100 miles a week. But that has dissipated. In fact, we haven’t been on the bikes for at least six months if not closer to a year. Maybe it’s even more. I’ve lost track. Life gets in the way; we haven’t made the time. But when we go into the garage, we never fail to gaze longingly at our gorgeous metallic blue road bikes hanging on their hooks, gathering dust, their tires now devoid of air. Lately we’ve been talking about getting back on them. And today is the day that happens.

Kevin has dusted them off, re-inflated the tires, lubed the chains. I’ve found the water bottles and they’re filled with cool, not cold water. We only drink water when we ride; no electrolyte beverages for us. Water is what we need; water is what we have.

We’re going to slip into our biking clothes, the black spandex shorts with the padded crotch and the brightly colored Lycra tops. We’ll slip into our cycling shoes, the kind with clips on the bottom that attach to the peddles so you have to clip in and clip out when you start and stop. I hope we can remember how; otherwise we’ll tip over. We’ll put them into the Range Rover and head east, to a nice stretch of road that climbs a bit at first. We’ll get to the end and then turn around for more of a coast on the way back. We’ll have parked where there’s a great coffee/breakfast place we like so that afterwards, we can get some coffee, maybe a muffin. It won’t be a long ride, but it will be a good ride, one to get us back on the saddle again, and on the road again.

All apologies to Willie Nelson. 

And the desert smiles

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 7, 2013 12:07 AM

I’m in Tucson and looking out at the sun dancing in the Catalina foothills. It’s been a simply glorious day here, not too hot, a gentle breeze tickling the palm trees and running headlong into the millions of saguaro and prickly pear cactus that refuse to budge. Birds have been singing and the butterflies are everywhere in all manner of sizes and colors, from the smallest yellow to the largest orange and black. Occasionally there is one of ghostly white with gossamer wings. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white-winged butterfly before. I wonder if perhaps the intensity of the sun has faded away the color it once had.

This morning we went for a walk along the expansive and dry Rillito River. The city has created pathways and bridges for walkers and cyclists that runs nearly the length of the river, a bed that I’m sure has water in it at some point during the year but never has during any of the times we’ve been here. There were plenty of people walking their dogs, others walking dogless like us. The number of cyclists was impossible to count. People on mountain bikes, others on road bikes; some out for a leisurely tour, others working up a sweat. Some were young, others older, still others old but all were happy and friendly. Good morning. ‘morning!

The sun crested eventually, dripping heat down upon us. We retreated to the air conditioning to watch a little football, do a little more work. Our entire weekend has mostly been about work and that’s OK. We have work; this is good. It is infinitely better than the alternative.

We relaxed. We enjoyed. We reflected.

Monday is knocking at the door already. It’s a faint knock but insistent. Tomorrow evening we’re thinking of going to the movies since we didn’t get a chance to do much of anything this weekend, at least not much of anything fun, not much of anything that was nothing. Sometimes nothing is what’s needed in order to recharge and re-energize. I did do a little bit of nothing later today. By nothing I mean simply enjoying the moment and not being involved in anything stressful. By nothing I mean something fun. I talked to a friend I hadn’t spoken to in a while and it was delightful.

I’m standing at the window watching as two big bear-like dogs, Newfoundlands I think, are strolling with their owners. Plodding along, also enjoying the something that is nothing.

The last bit of sun is kissing the highest point of the hills; the rest is bathed in shadow, now flat and dark. The temperatures are starting to fall again. Soon the city will sleep and us along with it, before getting up to work another day, another week. Still, as the silence begins to settle, I am struck by the calm of it all. The desert, for all of its harsh reality is a beautiful place. It is filled with color and hope; with life. As the night begins to settle and the sun wanes, I think I can see it smiling. 

4:20 am and the phone sounds

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 2, 2013 1:06 AM

There are few things that can rouse a person out of a deep dream-state in a split second. An earthquake, the sound of glass breaking somewhere in the house (often synonymous with an earthquake) and a ringing phone. In the days before cell phones, an old-fashioned phone was usually propped on a bedside table. If its ring shattered the silence, it was just jarring enough to cause instant panic. Who died?

These days, many people no longer have landlines, Kevin and I included. Cell phones and all that they can do – and let’s face it they can do everything but go grocery shopping – have rendered landlines virtually extinct. This summer, after several years of threatening to pull the cord, we did, eliminating both our private line and our two business lines. Now the cell phones go with us everywhere, held in our hands or tucked in a pocket or a purse. They move to the coffee table at night when we set up to relax and watch a little tube before going to bed. Then they move into the bedroom, each taking up residence on its owner’s table, hopefully to be silent until the morning.

We’ve had telemarketing calls come in fairly early, around 7 am. That’s obnoxious, but we’re usually not in that dead-like sleep where the real world has ceased to exist and instead has been replaced by strange happenings that seem, remarkably, normal. Being in the same space with a group of people I haven’t seen since college. Driving a car that isn’t mine and that I’ve never seen before and trying desperately to find my lost candy bar. The possibility of time travel where my dad is still alive and young, as are my brother and sister, but where I’m the same age or older than I am now. A story is born.

I can imagine that in this state, my eyes are engaged in the rapid movement scientists often discuss. I know that this morning at 4:20 I was deep in the zone. I have no idea what I was dreaming about but I know it was interesting in that way that dreams have of being just fascinating and making perfect sense while you’re in them. It’s probably one of the reasons they dissipate so quickly upon waking. They want to leave you with the feeling of wow rather than the more apt thought of WTF.

At 4:20 am, there was a loud bloutzel blang, the sound that Kevin’s phone makes when it is getting a text message. Both of us sat up immediately, terrified. Hearts pounding. A cold sweat breaking out. Hair standing on end.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Your phone,” I said, hyperventilating. “I think it was a text message.”

“What time is it?”

“I have no friggin’ idea. Who is texting you at this hour?”

“Where’s my phone?”

“It must be over there. I heard it.”

“I heard it, too. Shoot. Where’s Cooper?”

Cooper was snoring. My heart was pounding as was Kevin’s. He reached for his phone to find out who was texting us before 4:30 in the morning, interrupting our dreams, our sleep, our night. Jolting us awake in the same way as an earthquake or glass breaking or the old-fashioned jangling phones of old.

“Justin. He needs rent money.”

“At 4:20 in the morning?!”

Granted it was 7:20 for Justin since he’s in New York. Still. We both slid back down into the bed, under the covers. Cooper sighed. Seriously? We’re up and talking? It’s still dark out. After a while, we both drifted back off to sleep, back into dreamland, and back into the night. 4:20 is early to be so rudely awakened but the ability to get back to sleep is always something worth celebrating.

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live out loud

Out to dinner

by Lorin Michel Friday, September 27, 2013 11:42 PM

When Kevin and I first got together, we would go out quite a bit, to dinner, for drinks, to the movies. As we settled into old boringly wonderful married life, our time out dwindled. We’re home-bodies at heart so for us to fix a nice meal at home is often preferable to going out. Still, it’s nice every now and again. It’s why we instituted date night.

For quite a number of years, we would go out to dinner on Friday nights. It was a good night to be out with people, all of whom seemed to be breathing a collective sigh of relief that another week had come to a successful close. Then the recession hit and we stopped going out to dinner. Our businesses remained fairly strong even during the down years but like so many we lived in constant fear of it all falling apart. Spending $100 every week for a night out seemed frivolous at best and potentially dangerous at worst.

We then instituted the Thursday date night of wine tasting. Luckily this also corresponded nicely with the advent of Fritini. We could still go out every week, something that is important because if we don’t go out at least once a week, we start to develop a bit of cabin fever. And wine tasting is substantially less money than going out to dinner. Add Fritinis to that, which, even though we stay in, we’re with friends and making good meals and drinking good wine. It’s like going out only more fun with no closing time.

Still. Going out to dinner. Every once in a while we feel the need and since yesterday was our anniversary we decided that tonight would be a good night to dine in a restaurant. It surprised both of us how excited we are.

I love going out to eat. I love trying new types of food and when we find something we like, figuring out how I might be able to make something similar at home. This is one of the reasons we tend to not go out a lot. We have developed a fairly good repertoire over the years of fairly good food stuffs. We cook in the privacy of our home, and serve our food accompanied by a lovely bottle of wine.

Still. Going out to dinner. I’m really looking forward to it. I get to put on some decent clothes, something that’s not shorts and a tee shirt or tank top, maybe even some real shoes as opposed to the flip flops I seem to be living in these days. I’ll style my hair more than the usual wash and blow dry and hope for the best before just being fine with the fact that it’s at least clean. I’ll even put on some makeup. Ooooh, mascara. I’ll feel, gasp, like a girl.

Kevin may even break down and put on a pair of jeans.

When we go out to dinner we often opt for Italian because how can you go wrong with pasta and a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo? Tonight though, we’re trying someplace different. It’s called Pastiche and it’s more eclectic fair. Supposed to have a great wine list. And for one of their appetizers they have mushroom soup because “shitake happens.”

How can we go wrong with a new place that has a sense of humor?

The only thing missing will be our friends.

Still. Going out to dinner. How decadent. How celebratory. How living it out loud of us. Cheers.

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The time of our lives

by Lorin Michel Thursday, August 29, 2013 10:57 PM

I have long been fascinated by the idea of time, by how it’s abstract and real all at once.  We measure it so carefully, every day. Seconds tick and become minutes. Minutes turn into hours, hours become a day and the whole process begins again. The days mount up and become a week. The weeks turn into a month. Months eventually become a year. Years become decades become a life.

Each January we start the count all over again. Each year on our birthday, we get older. Time passes.

I was on the phone with a client yesterday and we were talking about a product launch that was supposed to happen this year but that has been pushed to January. He mentioned that it gave us four more months to get everything done and I pointed out that while that was true, the holidays were coming up quickly and once November hits, all bets are off. There are a lot of days when people aren’t working and even more when people are working but don’t want to be so not much gets done. It is like this through January 2, depending on the day of the week upon which January 2 falls.

My client agreed. It’s hard to think that far ahead some times, when we’re still mired in the heat of August. But Thanksgiving will be here next week, and then Christmas the week after. All in good time.

I also spoke with my mother last night and I asked how Shawn and Caden (my niece and nephew who live close to her) had done with their first day of school. Summertime has passed, it seems. She said that they were both fine but that she was having a bit of a hard time with it. It had all gone too fast. She talked about how it never used to bother her probably because when my brother, sister and I were still at home, exploring the lazy months of summer, doing nothing but playing and as we got older, borrowing the car and working, she was ready for us to go back to school. Ready for some down time. That time has passed.

I think when you’re a kid, time stalls. You can sit and wait for something to happen, watching the clock on the wall with each tick of the second hand in slow motion. It’s like watching a movie. And all you want is for it to be 8:30 so you can go out and get on your bike. Play time. But when you get older, suddenly the opposite happens. The seconds race by, becoming minutes then hours, then days and weeks and months and years. One day you wake up and it’s August; the next minute, it’s New Years.

Time is finite and infinite. It passes quickly and is gone and yet it stretches on forever. We can look in the mirror and see our past time but our future time we can only imagine, and hope for. Dream time.

Can we please do it one more time?

We have time, we tell time, we’re on time or we’re late. There is time, the time is now, no time like the present. Time heals all wounds, a stitch in time, does anybody really know what time it is?

All in good time, because it’s a matter of time. The test of time, a good time, and bad time, in the nick of time, having a wonderful time – wish you were here. At one time or another it’s about time; it’s high time, big time. Sometimes I hardly have time to think. Times change and we change with them.

And now it’s time I should be going.

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They mostly come out at night. Mostly.

by Lorin Michel Monday, August 26, 2013 1:01 AM

We have a cricket in the laundry room. And he is loud. I have never been a fan of crickets, for three reasons. They are noisy, they are impossible to find, and when you do find them, they are extraordinarily ugly, even by bug standards.

I was first introduced to crickets when I lived on the east coast. They come out at night – which reminds me of the line from Aliens when the little girl, Newt, who is the only survivor on whatever planet, says: “They mostly come out at night. Mostly.” – and they seemed to exist solely for the purpose of making humans’ lives miserable.

I wonder if the original writer of Alien and then James Cameron who wrote Aliens had crickets in mind when they wrote those horror/action films.

Crickets chirp and crick and sing and pulse and talk and screech and creak and whine and yell and tell jokes and cry and generally have conversations with other crickets who may or may not be listening and if I was a cricket, I wouldn’t be because their voices are like nails on a chalkboard.

But maybe they like it.

My point is I’m not really used to hearing crickets out here in the west. For some reason, I had thought they were an east coast creature and that perhaps they like the humidity, much like mosquitoes. I don’t know why for sure; I just know they don’t seem to like the desert southwest. And for that I’ve been pretty grateful, because I remember well when there was a cricket in the house and it would start making its cricket noise in the night and it was impossible to find. I would go on the hunt, staying oh-so-still when I thought I was close, listening to find exactly where the little chirping devil was hiding. I would take a step, and the damned thing would stop chirping. It was like it was watching me, toying with me, teasing me. As if it was sitting there somewhere in the dark saying “Catch me if you can, earthling.”

I never could.

And now, evidently, this same menace has found its way to my laundry room. Somehow it has traveled across the miles and set up his new torturous regime here in the West. Maybe it stowed away in my suitcase last time I was visiting though I doubt it since that’s ridiculous and also it’s been a while since I was at my mother’s house. I was back east in July but that was in Pittsburgh and Maryland and I don’t remember crickets there. The nasty little cricket creature I remember was in New York, and then in New Hampshire.

Perhaps it’s the “new” part that it likes.

It’s new for him to be out here, enjoying the sunshine and general lack of humidity. It’s new that I’m once again stalking a cricket that is obviously stalking me. It’s new that he’s in my house when he used to only live in my mother’s house.

Crickets should be outside where they can chirp and crick and sing and pulse and talk and screech and creak and whine and yell and tell jokes and cry and generally have conversations with other crickets who may or may not be listening, but where they are not keeping we humans – OK, just me; Kevin sleeps through everything – awake.

Is there something to celebrate about this cricket? Well, he did make it all the way across the country to once again wreak havoc on my sleep. So while I can’t celebrate my exhaustion, I can celebrate his fortitude. 

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It's all just a bunch of stuff

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 25, 2013 1:51 AM

I was going through some old boxes today. I'm always a bit amazed at what I find. Mementos from a long ago trip to Japan, another lifetime ago. An itinerary for the first time I went to Cabo San Lucas in 1989. That's when I fell in love with Baja, California. Unfortunately I was with someone that I wasn't really in love with; not anymore. I have no idea why I kept that itinerary. We were staying at the Melia San Lucas. I wonder if it’s still there.

I found old glass globe lanterns, frosted blue, two of them, a matching set, both holding tea light candles. There was a small wooden kaleidoscope; a heart shaped stone; a miniature martini glass.

Mostly what I found was old writings. As I’ve mentioned here before, I have been writing since I could write, penning stories from the time I was six and didn’t really know what stories were. I just knew I had to write them. Today I found the stories I wrote in college, many of which I sort of remember but not really. I wasn’t a very good writer then. I didn’t understand the craft and the structure. I just thought that if I had an idea and I could string legitimate sentences together that it made me a real writer. I was very wrong. The idea is only part of what happens when you’re a writer. It’s the structure that’s key. People have to be able to follow. There has to be drama. There has to be a reason to keep turning the page. I didn’t get that.

I re-read some of my old work and it was very bad. Even the ideas. I kept them anyway. I don’t know if it was for sentimental reasons or if it was because I think maybe there is something there. I doubt it’s the latter, though I did find some of my post-college work and while the writing isn’t perfect, some of the ideas are sound and improving with age.

I dabbled quite a bit in screenplays when I was in my 20s and early 30s. I had some that were nearly optioned which is to say I had interest. But nothing ever made it further than that. Still, some of the stories are pretty decent. They may make a good short story or novel.

There were old mugs and photos and business card holders and shot glasses and gift books and cards and letters and paperwork and the folder from the first house I bought. It was about 2100 square feet, three bedrooms, two and a half baths with a formal living room and dining room, a family room and a kitchen. It was $195,500 in 1988, a fortune back then in Southern California. I don’t know how we afforded it.

From the mugs to the coasters to the nic-nacs and more, it’s all just a bunch of stuff. But it’s the stuff that makes us who we are, that keeps us grounded in our present even as we revisit our past. Stuff is what we surround ourselves with even if it’s just an old wine label notebook. Stuff is what helps us to define ourselves, through our likes and dislikes and ultimately what we decide to keep and explore again as if it’s the first time. I think that may be the coolest part of going through old boxes: deciding if it’s all new again.

In other words, it’s all just a bunch of stuff, all old but I love stuff. Stuff is what we’re made of, it’s a road map to our past, navigation to our future. That’s the stuff of life.

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Paw prints in the mud

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 7, 2013 10:31 PM

We walk Cooper twice a day. In the morning, it’s usually sometime between 7 and 8:30. The particular route that we take is along a fairly major road that is lined with trees and vegetation on both sides. It’s about 1.2 miles so the dog gets his exercise as do we. If we go late, which sometimes happens on Sundays because we sleep in, the air is warmer and the sidewalks are a touch hotter. The ground is also drier. This is a big deal because when we walk at our usual time, it’s not long after the sprinklers have run. The landscaping crew has them on a timer, probably for sometime before the sun comes up. It keeps the trees thick and lush, the wild flowers blooming. It keeps the street lovely.

It makes the ground muddy.

Muddy ground makes for a very muddy puppy. A puppy who seems to revel in it, who happily prances up into the ground cover before gleefully sliding down, packing nice wet mud into his pads, coating the fur that peaks out from his paws. Then he pads on down the sidewalk leaving Cooper-size prints in his wake.

Cooper was here.

Oh, I try to keep him out of the mud. I must yell out of the mud! at least four times per walk before I finally give up. Actually before I finally realize that the mud doesn’t bother him at all; just me. Only because I know when we get home, we’ll have to clean his feet before he’s allowed in the house. He’s not very good at wiping his feet.

Many a morning has resulted in muddy paw prints on the hardwood floors leading to muddy prints on the carpet in the bedroom followed by me, with a wet and soapy cloth, scrubbing said carpet.

This is why there will be no carpet in the new house. Tile is much easier to clean.

I realize that having a dog means having paw prints in the mud on a fairly regular basis. We had them with Maguire, too. I remember one particular morning after we first moved into this house when he was out in the backyard, probably with his morning cookie. When he didn’t come back to the backdoor and let out his customary I’m ready to come in announcement bark, I called to him. He came flying around the corner, ears trailing behind him, bounding toward me with such gleeful abandon I couldn’t do anything but laugh. Even at the trail of mud and muddy water flying off of his front paws and legs. He had decided to dig in a corner of the yard, after the sprinklers had run. The dirt got progressively muddier as water from the ground filled the hole. He couldn’t have been more pleased with himself. I quickly closed the door to leave him out there.

Kevin got a bucket of warm water and put Maguire’s front paws/legs into it so he could scrub him clean before allowing him into the house. The look of joy was quickly replaced with a look of how can you do this to me?

A friend of mine posted a pic of her yellow lab mix on Facebook the other day. The dog’s name is Olivia and she was standing at the back door, paws up on a table, happy as could be, ready to come in. Covered in mud. I laughed and commented how adorable.

Paw prints in the mud and muddy paw prints in the house are all part of the joy of dog ownership, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Yes, there’s a hassle factor, but the incredible happiness on Cooper’s face as he slips and slides his way up and down the hills on Hawthorne is worth it.

And he’s leaving a little something of himself behind.

At least until the next time the sprinklers run.

Emma Rae, I have a cookbook to put out, and a daughter to raise, and the God damn winter Grand Prix. And I just don’t have time for the nervous breakdown I deserve, so please, don’t ask me to stop and think!

by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 25, 2013 12:32 AM

One of my guilty pleasure movies is 1995’s Something to Talk About. It was written by Callie Khouri, her next film after her Oscar winning Thelma & Louise (also a big fan of that). It’s not an especially great movie. I’m not sure if it’s even a good movie but there’s something about it that has always resonated with me. I think it’s just the whole southern fried family thing, the crisp dialogue, and probably the cast. It stars Julia Roberts, Robert Duval, Gena Rowlands, Kyra Sedgwick and Dennis Quaid.

If I have not mentioned it before, I am a big Dennis Quaid fan. I’ll watch him in just about anything, especially when he flashes that bad boy grin. He can, however, keep his brother, Randy. I am not a fan of his.

The film is lush with dialogue and food and colloquial sayings that sound absurd and yet completely natural when delivered through southern accents with horses and mint juleps in the background. The basic plot has an older daughter’s marriage to her philandering husband unraveling and her realization that she has let her life become something it was never supposed to be, and her subsequent attempts to get it back on track. It’s done with humor and grace and curly hair. It’s rather a hoot.

For whatever reason, as I awoke this morning at my now customary pre-dawn time, my brain already awash in all of the things I needed to do today, knowing full well that I wouldn’t get to half of them, listening to the high chirp of a small bird that seemed to be positioned right outside our open window, listening to the blur of the vacillating fan and the kick of Cooper’s paws against his kennel as he dreamed about birds and cookies and running through fields; as I lay there thinking and listening still snug under the covers in the cool of the coming day, my mind racing even as my body was still, into my brain popped one of my favorite quotes from Something to Talk About.

“Emma Rae, I have a cookbook to put out, and a daughter to raise, and the God damn winter Grand Prix. And I just don’t have time for the nervous breakdown I deserve, so please, don’t ask me to stop and think!”

It is spoken by the lead character, Grace, played with fun and heartbreaking vigor by Julia Roberts, to her sassy, man-obsessed and wisdom-filled younger sister, played hilariously by Kyra Sedgwick in her pre-The Closer days.

It’s the don’t have time for the nervous breakdown part that made me smile because it is rather my life right now. Granted, I’m not putting out a cookbook, my son is already raised and I know nothing about the Grand Prix other than the occasional car race that I am in no way involved in. But with all that is transpiring now, with packing and moving and finding a new place to live, temporarily, and securing loans and making sure escrow is moving forward and then starting another escrow and making phone calls and making contacts, oh, and working full time, I really don’t have time for the nervous breakdown I deserve either.

Instead, I wake up with the birds, to quote a cliché, eventually I get out of bed and let the day wash over me until the night falls and I fall back into bed to sleep for a few hours.

I’m not complaining; just explaining. I chose all of this. It is what I want. It’s just a wee bit stressful, and I’m using this post to spill.

As Emma Rae said in another line of delicious dialogue: “lick it, put a stamp on it, and mail it to someone who gives a sh*t.” That’s good stuff, too; real, honest, and funny even amidst all that was going on in the film’s fictional story, all that is going on in my factual life. It’s worth celebrating.

Now pardon me while I engage in my meltdown.

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I'm down with that

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 2, 2013 11:49 PM

It occurred to me once, not too long ago, that I am associated with some places that have some pretty depressing names. I’m not sure why this occurred to me. I have no idea what was happening in my brain at the time, though I suspect both a bunch and not very much at all. I could have been thinking about what to make for dinner, or if there were any soon-to-be-released movies that I’d like to see. Suddenly, there it was, knocking at my imagination and making me wonder.

I was born in Olean, New York which is in the southwestern part of the state, just over the border from Pennsylvania, the state where both my parents were born and raised, in various places with dread-type names. One literally has the word “dred” in it as in Eldred. It’s a tiny little berg in Pennsylvania, where my dad was from. There aren’t many people who lived there then or now. For the first year of my life, my mom, dad and I lived in a very small apartment on the second floor of some sort of an equally small apartment building. I think they had a washing machine but no clothes dryer. My mother used to tell the story of how she would have to hang the cloth diapers out on a clothesline where they would freeze. She would bring them in, sheets of ice, and lean them up against the furniture to thaw. I suspect she used to dread having to do laundry.

When I was three or four, we moved to another slightly eerie place, minus an ‘e.’ Erie, Pennsylvania. I don’t remember much about Erie. I have fragments of memories. Like Andrew and Gigi who lived behind us on Kruger Avenue. We had an apartment; they lived in a big dark house at the end of twisting driveway. I’m sure it was neither big, nor twisting, but that’s my memory of it. I remember a house burning down just across the street because of candles. It makes my memories of Erie sort of eerie.

Then we moved to a suburb called Fairview. A much nicer sounding name but I don’t remember it much at all. We built a house. It was a ranch, with three bedrooms. Scott was little. I think Khris was born there. I remember sharing a room briefly. There was wallpaper. I think yellow daisies.

My mother grew up near a place that, at the time, was sort of the pits, literally and figuratively. Pittsburgh. Back then it was a steel town. The big factory chimneys of U.S. Steel plants belched a constant stream of black soot into the air. My mother used to talk about how black the bottoms of her feet would get. I remember the same when we would visit my great aunts, Beryl and Eleanor, who lived in the big brick house up and across from one of the three rivers that pulse through the city. I’m sure the river, too, was grimy. I can’t imagine how it could have been any other way. We would race through the house and the bottoms of our feet would get black, too.

I didn’t mind it as a kid but as I’ve grown, I realize that it really was the pits. At least when I was little. Pittsburgh has since become a much more fashionable city, a much more cultural place; cosmopolitan. It started many years ago, I know. It was the most livable city in the country in 2007.

But I don’t visit Pittsburgh anymore. I have flown through it; I have changed planes. The airport is decent. I’ll be there tomorrow night as I fly in for the weekend, to help my mother clean out Aunt Beryl’s house, the one up and across from one of the rivers. I won’t get to spend a lot of time experiencing the new Pittsburgh but I will embrace it anyway. I love that they were able to reinvent themselves. I wish that all places and people could do the same.

It’s probably not the pits anymore. I have no idea if Erie is still eerie; probably not. The last time I was in Eldred, when my grandmother died in 2001, it was still a little backwards, a little quiet; much the same as it had been when I would run through the fresh cut grass that would turn my feet green.

That appears to be another running meme in my life, places that change the color of my feet. It occurs to me now that that’s a whole other chapter, another story lodged in my mind. I wonder where it might take me.

I wonder what I’ll discover when I get there.  

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