Retail.

2 May

I was a retail manager for 17 long years. For legal reasons, I won’t name any of the companies I’ve worked for. I was good at what I did. I knew how to turn a profit, recognize unnecessary spending waste, was extremely good at loss-prevention. I was a Spanish/English translator for corporate and I somehow managed to usually be everyone’s favorite manager to work for. It’s extremely difficult to separate the corporate greed you’re forced to farm and still be a humanitarian. You wouldn’t believe how little money you earn for how much responsibility and work you have to do. Not to mention the stringent rules and regulations. I wore a mask 60 hours a week. Not a physical mask, like now, but a personality one. Looking back, its almost criminal. Imagine running a 10 million annual store, 72 employees directly under you, and not being able to treat yourself to a drink at the dive around the corner that costs $4.50. I’m not sure how the people who treat retail employees terribly, or anyone in service for that matter, lay their heads down and sleep at night. In light of everything, maybe we’ll all learn to be less shitty to everyone. That cashier that just rung up your precious Roma tomatoes and toilet paper is risking their lives for minimum wage. My jobs weren’t essential, but at the time they were all I had on my resume and it was what I could get hired for. Trust me, I tried for years to get out.

This story is not about my grievances. I have many. This story is about what was probably my best retail job. It prepared me for other jobs. It taught me work ethic. For the time, it paid me extremely well, with top-notch medical. Bonuses, concert tickets, parties…they took care of us. I also saw way more genitalia and nudity on the job than one would expect for a corporate chain. This particular store is found in every mall. It serves young adults and kids, for the most part, to find their way and who they are as they are maturing. It carries a variety of items. Most known and visited for band t- shirts and body jewelry. It also sold pop culture things, hair dye, nail polish… you know, anything you would need to make grandma uncomfortable at Thanksgiving. I’m also proud to say even way back then, in a mostly conservative town, we sold gay stuff too. You wouldn’t believe how happy a scrawny teenager would be when they pulled their crumpled up money out of their pocket that they had obviously been saving and covertly bought a pride shirt as if it were contraband. In Fresno, CA we were the highest-volume store in all of the United States. Also, the smallest square footage. We were only 1100 square feet. What does that matter? They ship you product based on volume, not size. Let that sink in. Everyone who worked there became extremely good at Tetris.

I have worked at many well-known retail places, but this one was special. I have made life-long friends during my time there. People I still talk to today, 14 years later. One person, became an official member of my chosen family and notarized executor of my estate. One, I fixed up with a former partner’s brother and they got married. Another, I sent my zines to with mixed tapes when I was in my fledgling stage of a real writing career. One is married to one of my high school friends I used to go to ska shows with and is now living here in Portland. I would equate it to the movie Empire Records, but that would be too contrite. It was a renaissance time. We made each other laugh, did weird shit, and yes… flashed genitalia.

FUN TIMES

As I mentioned, we were extremely high-volume. That means you gotta bust your ass selling those AFI shirts, Playboy bunny belly button rings, and those impossibly heavy JNCO jeans. Oh! Also, gotta process those 50-75 boxes of shipment daily. You gotta keep the shelves that barely exist because you’re operating out of a closet stocked! Oh! Things are selling so fast, you must constantly remerchandise! Don’t worry! No one is waiting to be rung up or needs help out there in the locked-up body jewelry case or the trench coats and goth dresses hanging on the wall because of lack of space and can only be accessed with a hook. A hook only an employee can touch. One of my coworkers once fashioned a shelf out of two pieces of cardboard to stretch across the top of the body jewelry case in order to fit more Nightmare Before Christmas merch that we were being bombarded with by the carton full. I thought it was brilliant, but corporate said no. Safety issues. Fix our square footage then, assholes.

We were under a lot of pressure, but we played games to keep us entertained.

Once a bat got trapped in the mall and decided to hang out in the store. Not joking. We named it “Bella”.

Games we would play:

*Counterfeit*

So we had this marker that you would drag across larger bills. It would be yellow on a real bill, turn black on a bad one. We HAD to use it. If there was a $20 or larger without the mark on it in your till at the end of your shift it was automatic termination. The counterfeit game went as such: You run the pen across all bills, even smalls. Coins, credit cards and debit cards while maintaining a serious and straight face. You must be all business and never crack a smile. You should see a customer’s face when you run a counterfeit detecting pen across a nickel.

*No Habla Ingles*

We would only do this to the terrible moms that were pissed off and yelling at us for no damned reason. Those people who hated their lives and their personal choices so they take it out on service workers. You know, “Karens” I guess we call them now. We didn’t have a word for it back then. We just called them “assholes”. So, when mom was mad about a sign, an expired coupon, not having an item in the magical back room, or any other bullshit, suddenly we all spoke only Spanish. “Yo no se pendeja”.

*Blackout*

Any retail worker knows that it’s annoying and extremely frustrating when people rush into your store right at closing time. Most corporate businesses are under intense monitoring as far as clock-out times. Everything needs to be straightened perfectly, and that till must not be over or under even a dollar. This is extremely stressful and people don’t give a FUCK. They’ll roll in 5 minutes before close. Corporate wont let you tell them what for. How dare you upset the paying customer? Oh, and you best believe they take their time too. They know, oh lord do they know what they’re doing. Guess what? The breaker is on my way to the back. Guess who just had a power outage? Looks like I need some time to fix it. Not safe for customers, and I’m just a girl so it’s absolutely going to take a while.

*Flirt game*

When we would see two people that were very obviously a couple, and they were being gross, this game would begin. We hated PDA. So, if a couple sauntered in, groping each other, hands in each other’s ugly-ass jean back pockets, or making out in the store and blocking everyone’s way we would engage. We would choose whatever employee we thought would be the most attractive to one of the two people, and that person would go and flirt. Ever so gradually. First it would seem like friendly customer service. Then, it might be touching them and telling them how good they look. “Oh wow! You’ve been working out!” We would slowly, and gradually ramp it up until the couple gets in a fight while we all wordlessly and expressionless, look on. We always placed bets on whether or not one of us would get punched.

*Hazing*

Getting a job at this particular place was coveted and extremely difficult. We only had so many slots. Also, in our small town we were considered rockstars if we worked there. I know that sounds strange, but it was true. There were times I’d be out in Fresno, just doing a normal-person thing like going to the movies and people would want to shake my hand or take a selfie with me. On a disposable camera. That’s what we had then. We were a small team, and it had to be a right fit. We were swimming around in a fishbowl, and everyone needed to get along. Sometimes it would be determined on something we were lacking. For example, at one point I was the only girl, therefore we needed some diversity. It was never based on looks. So many people wanted to work there. My stack of applications and resumes each week were larger than my head. When we would finally select someone after interviewing them at the food court in front of the Sbarro’s, they got hazed. I would hire someone and on their first day make them walk around all shift with balloons tied around their wrists I purchased at the Hallmark store so I could “see them” and “knew where they were”.

I once made a new hire wear a pink, fuzzy Kangol bucket hat all shift and told him it was a corporate requirement to boost sales.

*Acting*

One coworker would pretend to have an arm injury, and would tell the customers that he needs to build up the strength in his hand. Any assistance a customer would need with an item, he would ask them to put in his weak hand in order to make it stronger. He was the only one who could do this game. The job for the rest of us was to try and keep a straight face. The man deserved a god-damned Oscar, or a Tony…I don’t know, but you’ve never seen a more convincing performance. It would not be uncommon for one, or more us to have to duck behind the cash-wrap to get the giggles out so we could all stay in character.

*Code*

Everyone who has ever worked retail knows that corporate visits are extremely stressful. You’re under a microscope, and they give zero shits about your day-to-day or your specific business challenges. They are paid to be there to focus on the bottom line. They are the ambassadors of corporate greed. When a visit occurs, we all know we have to behave differently. That means abiding by SOP (Standard Operating Procedures). The folly in that, is all corporate retail has an idea of how they want the business ran, but to actually serve customers and the insurmountable side-work asked of us…we find ways to make it work. At the end of the day, the customer needs to come first. The money they spend lines the corporate pocket, and they fail to see that. When the Big Wigs were heading in, we always put on a certain song as a signal to all workers clocking on that doom was upon us and we need to switch to a different mode. Wear your service hat, and sorry about all the people we have clocked on that we have zero budget allotted for. Don’t worry! I’ll just be forced to cut your hours later as a result to make up for it so we can all tap dance for people making more money than we ever will! That signal was Du Hast by Rammstein. My district manager once commented “wow, you guys really like Rammstein.” Yep. We love it.

The Music

There is a certain sort of torture that occurs to every retail worker. The music. It’s shoved into your fucking ear-hole anywhere from 20-40 hours a week, if you’re lucky. In my particular position, I had to listen to absolute garbage for about 60 hours. Can you listen to whatever you want? NOPE. You have to play whatever t-shirts are selling best. We also got free tickets to live bands and I had to organize it as a team-building event where no one could drink and I had to stare at people hard-core dancing dead-ass sober. Have you ever seen hard-core dancing? Yo… That means I have an acute knowledge of shitty bands from 1999-2006. During quarantine, while I’m cooking, we play a “name that tune” off Spotify from that time. I didn’t even realize how many Alkaline Trio, A Simple Plan, and Fall Out Boy songs I can still identify. Song, artist and album. Gross.

So, understanding that we had zero control over what we had to listen to due to corporate I submit to you bands we hated least. At the time:

Saves The Day

Andrew WK

Modest Mouse

A Static Lullaby

Coheed and Cambria

Taking Back Sunday

Smashing Pumpkins

Weezer

Reggie and the Full Effect

Le Tigre

Snake River Conspiracy

Thursday

Music became tasteless to us. As if you were force-fed Graham crackers every day. Sure, Graham crackers are good, but do you want them all day, every day? All music is valid, regardless of your opinion. Someone put themselves out to create it, and someone else is out there to enjoy it. When you’re forced to listen to it when you are doing a job, it can feel like waterboarding.

Even to this day , when we close the bar the very first thing I do is turn the music off. My coworkers hate it. I know this, but I need that sweet, sweet silence.

I understand that this isn’t good music for most. We had to pick something from the list, and you do with what you have.

To this day, Sublime is strictly banned at any bar I work at, or any home I live in. Oh trust me! there are so many more bands I was forced to play and listen to, that as the very first 3 notes play I can name both title and artist and gag at the same time. There were so many bad bands at this time, and we had to play it SO uncomfortably loud. When I say we had to, I mean we had to. Corporate came in, tested our sound system and put a line on the volume dial with white out and we couldn’t go lower or higher than that line. People accuse me of being a music snob now. I wonder why?

*Cue Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous*

Bands that make me instantly puke:

Lincoln Park

Eminem

Good Charlotte

All American Rejects

Yellow card

Mindful Self Indulgence

ICP

Sum 41

Look here… the list goes longer. This is just to name a few. As I perfectly folded the ever-so-trendy at the time black and hot pink t shirts of these terrible bands fucking my ear hole day in and out, I happily lined my pockets with my quarterly bonuses.

For the most part. Everyone that has ever worked retail will tell you about the Christmas music. When I finally lose it, they’ll put me in a home and mall Christmas music will be soundtrack in my addled brain.

Being a music writer for VICE was tough because of this. I’m sensitive to a lot of music now, and a lot of it fucking sucks. That god-damned horrible music festival they sent me to broke my brain.

Relationships

I’m still friends with a lot of people that I worked with from back then. Looking back on it, we all got along too. For how young we were and how much pressure we were under, its amazing. Believe it or not, there were few squabbles. Did we hook up with each other? YEP. Did it cause problems, NOPE. Not to say once in a while we didn’t hire a dud that needed to go. I got extremely good at the interview process. Not to brag, but I can feel someone out and know if they are good people or nah. It saved us a lot of red tape. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to terminate someone from a corporate in the state of California. They’d rather have someone straight-up stealing than deal with unemployment or a lawsuit. That’s why you must choose your candidate carefully. I think, for the most part, we did. As the official Loss Prevention officer, this drove me up the wall.

Was there drama? Sort of. My Shift Lead dated a sales associate and broke his heart. I just didn’t schedule them together, going forward. I heard two associates making fun of me in the back room, saying I had “greasy hair”. They got their hours cut. Don’t bite the hand, idiots. I had a crush on an associate, and I knew he liked someone else so I never scheduled them to work together. It’s all just another complicated game of Tetris.

I fell in love with a subordinate, and we had to hide it from everyone. That was so scandalous, we’d have to drive to San Francisco just to hold hands or be seen together in public. In the corporate world, fraternization is strictly forbidden. Eventually, he had to quit in order for me to not get fired. I got in extreme hot-water anyway. Rumors spread that people saw us out together, and my boss was extremely nosey. How strict were the rules? For example, if you were out somewhere, and a co-worker walked in, you were required to leave and walk out. If you even said “hi” it could be automatic termination. Working corporate is cool.

My illegal relationship

Nudity

I know this is the one you were waiting for. This is going to be a complicated list, and triggering to some. I never was nude there. Not outside of trying clothes on in the actual dressing room with the curtain closed. You know, like a normal person.

In my time there, I was subjected to the following:

Butts. So many damned butts. Of all variety. Part of our job was to climb ladders. Constantly. Like I mentioned before we had a space issue, so everything had to be merchandised up. Also, we had to store most of our back-stock product in The Loft. Every person who has worked at that store, in Fresno, CA just had a shiver go down their spine when I said that word. We had to pull a giant, 20-foot ladder out, lay it against a wall, sometimes on top of other boxes, and climb up it to get more studded belts or arm bracelets. This was such a dangerous and shitty day-to-day that the person tasked with scaling the wall would often moon their co-worker who had to spot the ladder and catch the box. Not “catch”, so to speak, but break its fall with our bodies as it sails down so the merchandise didn’t get damaged. That comes out of your budget. So the person chosen to climb after a fierce rock, paper, scissors would descend the precarious ladder with their butt hanging out. You would be forced to do nothing but stare right at it, because you have to hold the ladder or they may fall to certain doom. I fell off the ladder once. I had to get 12 stitches.

“The wristwatch”. Do you know what that is? I didn’t, but I apparently know what time it is when its half-past a freckle. So the “game” is you surprise a co-worker with your penis wrapped around your wrist like a bracelet or a watch and make them look at the stem. Like I said, I was working with all dudes at the time. Apparently, this is normal bro behavior but at the time, I wasn’t ready. To this day I hate the phrase “what time is it?’

Nipple rings. I hate them. No offense if you have them. They can be a beautiful adornment. Here’s my journey. Managers used to have to work the middle of the store, so they could see everything going on at all times. That meant I worked the body jewelry cases the most because they were dead-center. I cannot tell you how many funky dudes, in 101 degree weather would walk in, straight out of jail, lift up their shirt with a god damned toothpick through their nipple, and ask me what gauge I thought that was. Guess what folks, unfortunately this is information I have. It’s a 14. One of my female coworkers got her nipples pierced and couldn’t change the initial piercing set to the regular set. For those that don’t know, when you get a piercing, the introductory jewelry is a spacer. When it heals, you have to change it. Being the mom of the group, we went to the employee bathroom and I did it for her. Im not going to do this to you, dear reader, but the blood. Something you wont unsee.

Okay so this one is hard to talk about. I had a superior pull out his entire junk and show it to me at 7 in the morning when it was only us in there. I will never forget it. He was trying to show me his new Prince Albert. I just froze. I didn’t know what to do. He had called me in because he said we needed to inventory the merchandise in the loft. We climbed up, one by one with the inventory sheets. I started counting, he then kicked the ladder down so I couldn’t get away. Inventory that day was a ruse. He expected me to have sex with him. I absolutely did not. I actually jumped down, onto a shipment box with Sponge Bob plushies conveniently, and luckily, situated below. It was a little over a 20 foot drop, but I would have still done it if it were 60. I didn’t tell anyone because I needed to keep my job. He was later fired for reasons unrelated to me that I can’t discuss. I knew it was coming. I just had to wait it out. It was his word against mine. No cameras, remember? Who would believe me?

Shenanigans

Despite how busy we were and all we were tasked with, we still found time to do shit on that corporate dime. I became really good at haircuts. I would give them to everyone that worked there in the bathroom. Mohawks, upper-cuts, regular cuts, fresh fades, bang-trims, layering…none us spent any money on hair cuts at that time. Want your hair dyed? No problem. That Manic Panic container over there looks damaged. Let’s just mark it out and slap it on your head. It looks like you’re not feeling well and you need to go sit down for about 30 minutes.

Ear stretching was very “in” at the time. They forced us to to do standard ear piercing for customers, in which none of us were trained for. That’s right, they just handed us a gun and told us to practice on EACH OTHER. Then! After one go at it, we were allowed to pierce your children. If you ever see anyone with fucked up earlobes, chances are they are alumni. Mine look like my dog chewed on it. So because of having to do this, we were really comfortable with modifications of the earlobes. I’ll save you the gory, and often times stinky details of stretching ears, but we did it in the store all the time and I was the best at it.

For any retail worker, Christmas is misery. There are long lines, people are pissed because they feel they have to spend money they don’t have. That being said, they are assholes and don’t give a shit how they talk to you or how hard you have been working. They money-grub, try to under-cut, and push their way into any front any way they can get. They will shout, berate and degrade an underaged kid working a cash register. It’s a sad state of affairs. One particularly trying day, one of my coworkers got cornered by one of these awesome people, and he almost started crying. He sucked it up and went back to working the fitting room. I decided the fitting room was out of order. A pipe burst! Oh no! I hung an out of order sign on the curtain and let him wrap his Christmas presents in there instead. You treat our people like shit, you get shit.

Dress Code

One of the things that made the store so attractive to work for most was the very lack of any dress code. As someone who has worked for many corporate business, usually it is extremely strict on its specifications. One place I managed, wouldn’t allow nail polish, and your hair had to be tied back at all times. Another didn’t allow any other tops except ones that had sleeves to the wrist and no bare legs. Its rough out there in the retail world. When I started working at this particular establishment, I had a hard time breaking this habit. Everyone else were in punk shirts, pierced for days and tatted out. I would be in a designer skirt and high heels. I mean, that was this place was all about. Be your own, weird self. We even had a person working for us that would occasionally show up in full drag and run the register. It was amusing how many dads buying ICP shirts flirted with them and had NO IDEA. They even wore an alternate name tag we made for them and they would come back and ask for her. By name. At that time, in that town…quite brave. That could have gotten your ass killed.

So here I am, the manager of a store that, by definition, is supposed to be alt and I’m trying to do my best Linda Evangelista impression. They let it fly for about a year, but soon the corporate higher-ups descended upon me like vultures. They asked me what my goals with the company were. I said I wanted to move up to the corporate level. At the time, I really did. They explained to me if I were ever actually achieve that, I would “need to reflect more of the company’s image”. I asked them what I could do. They suggested either dying my hair a weird color or getting a piercing. I didn’t want to do either. Sure, I used to dye my hair purple, and shave my head when I was a fourteen-year old skate-punk. I just wasn’t that person anymore. That’s when I got my first nose ring.

They were not satisfied with this.

The next year, when we revisited this issue, I got a second one.

They still were not satisfied. Sometimes I wonder if this is why I never moved up beyond the store level. Most of me knows its because retail is a dead-end. They hire from the outside and rarely promote from within because they can pay less.

So that’s why I have two side-to side nose rings for life. I once took them out for two years, hoping they’d seal up. They won’t. What would you rather see? Two gaping holes in a person’s face or studs covering that? They’re here to stay. I’m going to be one progressive-looking granny.

Loss prevention

People stole from our store. A LOT. Normally, we wouldn’t give a shit. Sadly, that crap we’re moving around on pegs and stocking on the shelves is inventoried. If your store has too much deficit after the lovely folks of REGIS visit you (those who know, know), you become a flagged store. What does that mean? You must do inventory more often than usual, and I assure you a root canal is more pleasant. A company comes in after hours. They mark for all your shelves and things with area tags. They count and scan all the pieces in the area marked. You then, as the employee, must come in and double-count them. There’s always mistakes. It takes all night. They leave, then you have to clean it all up again before opening. The hours you’re paying those employees to do this come out of your regular budget. Now you have to cut the operating hours. Less people on the floor equals…guess what?? More stealing!

OH! And if you’re a flagged store, corporate is required to come do a visit once a week. Imagine the pleasantries in that.

One of the humanitarian things we did, was scare kids straight. What I’m about to tell you is illegal, I’m sure, but I think we did some good. We’ve never had a parent be mad at us once for doing this practice. If we ever caught a minor trying to steal, and trust me, they weren’t good at it. It was obvious. We would tell them they were caught. Then, there would be a moment of us breaking them down. We’d say shit like “ooh, you know what’s punk rock? Getting caught stealing a Blink 182 shirt”. We’d make them sit behind the cash register, provide a guardian’s number and we’d call them. Then, we’d call over our mall security guy (who cant do anything. They don’t know that) to come over and tell them what can happen if they continue to commit larceny. He was always really nice about it, but let them know of the seriousness of the situation. Eventually, the parent or guardian would show up. We’d pull them aside and explain what happened, no one owes any money, we just wanted to teach a lesson. We got a hug every time. Looking out, shaping those youths.

I will tell you working LP is one of the most stressful retail positions. You’re forced to monitor and keep track of every piece of merchandise that enters and leaves those doors. OH! And even those that don’t. Out of the average of 525 shipment boxes that come every week, better hope no one mis-delivers. OH! And if someone does steal, which they do, you are not allowed to stop them outside of verbally communicating with them. Same with mall security. It comes out of your budget and your paycheck.

Money

The pay was very good, at the time. This was a Fortune 500 company, and it showed. Not only were we earning an unheard of hourly wage for a mall store, we got bonuses every quarter. Big ones. The store manager got to go to a huge party every year, put up in a hotel, and had a band play for them. Not just “a band”, but a huge-name act. Also, got a company car.

At one of these legendary parties, an unexpected thing happened. Jesse James, the proprietor of West Coast Choppers, presented us with a briefcase full of cash. We had sold the most of his merchandise out of our tiny little store of anywhere in the world. He wanted to say thank you. Jesse pointed out that he has “pay up bitch” tattooed on his hands, and he wanted to be a man of his words. I won’t disclose the tax-free amount he handed us, but it was a LOT. The most money I’ve ever seen at once. We did a lot of math and divided it up amongst the staff based on hours worked and tenure. He may have broke Sandra Bullock’s heart, but he stole ours.

I used that money to go on a trip, buy some shit, and pay off all my stupid credit card debt I racked up in college.

To this day, best employee discount you’ve ever seen. We got 40% off, always. To put that in perspective, the last retail store I managed gave us 10%. We also got that discount on top of any clearance price. Also unheard of. So that means when things went on clearance, and we ran the additional 50% off promotion…we got 40% still on top of that. Guess what crap everyone got for Christmas? Hope you like Invader Zim dolls and cat collars. For humans.

The Leaving Song

This has been a long and hard look back on a specific time in my life. It may not seem like it was good, but it was. I will never regret taking this job and staying there for 6 years. I was one of the lucky ones. One of the chosen few that got to work at one of the greatest mall jobs there was to have in Fresno, CA in 1999.

I quit for a myriad of reasons. There was a lot of resentment over my clandestine relationship and I felt I was being forced out because of it. I was also being forced out because I was getting paid too much. That one got me, because I’m sure you’ve noticed I could have sued multiple times. I was frustrated with not being able to move up in the company. Mainly, I felt I was getting too “old” for that place. How many more piercings would I have to get? I chose to leave. The money was definitely worse, but it was time.

If you’re struggling to understand how this was my “favorite”, that will tell you how much working retail SUCKS.

SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESSES.

An Open Letter to Tom Jones

2 Apr

Hello Mr. Jones,

You don’t know me, but I know you. At least, I feel like I know you. I know you in the way that your voice is as familiar to me as my own father’s. That sounds absolutely crazy, but it’s true. When I say my mother was a fan of yours, it goes far deeper than that. You were a fixture in my household my entire life. Her love for you was a large part of my formidable years. If a game show existed in which one had to “name that Tom Jones song” in a few notes or less, I would absolutely win that show and take the grand prize. There is no song you’ve ever recorded that I don’t know backward and forward. I’d be willing to put money on it. Even the country ones. Even the disco ones too. If I’m out in public somewhere and a Tom Jones song should happen to come on, my ears can’t help but tune into it and I have to listen. Your face is almost as familiar to me as a close relative. Your dark curls, tan skin and beautiful aquamarine eyes (my mom would swear they are green) are something I’ve been looking at since I was in diapers. Your beautiful voice, thick Welsh accent is as familiar to me as hers. You were part of my family, my household, and I’d like to share that story.

I was born in 1979, and was in high school in the early 90’s. Not exactly the peak of relevance for who Tom Jones was at that time. Sure, there was a slight resurgence. You had released the Kiss cover with The Art of Noise in 1994 so you were on MTV. Lets be honest, it was more realistically in heavy play on VH1. At the height of grunge and punk rock, it was a tough sell for the Nirvana generation. Yet, every day when I was driven to school you were playing in the car via Maxell 90 minute gold cassette tapes recorded painstakingly by my mom off her LP collection she held on to since a teen. Not sure if you remember, but those were the expensive ones. The “good ones” with best sound quality. She bought a very pricy home sound system just to do this. The kind with the big glass door that you would push in, and door would pop out. It had a record player, a dual cassette recorder, and a CD player. The latter was so state of the art, most stores didn’t even sell cd’s, and if they did, they were 50 bucks a piece. She bought any of those of yours she could find and paid whatever price. This sound system cost close to $2,000, purchased on credit as the unsuspecting middle class in 80s America was duped to do. This was brought into our humble household solely to create mix tapes of Tom Jones songs from her records. I was most definitely NOT allowed to touch it. Nor even play anywhere near it. These tapes were cultivated extremely carefully. All the sad songs together, for when she was feeling down. All the party songs together when she was on a high. Seeking to create the ultimate greatest hits, and there were many of these. She seemed to never be able to make the perfect tape, but continued to try. She would spend hours, donning big can headphones sprawled out on our green shag carpet creating these masterpieces. I knew every word. Every vocal inflection and cadence. No one else I went to school with seemed to know anything about Tom Jones or had heard about you. At a time when being weird was the last thing a teenager wanted to be seen as, I was that. It wasn’t just in the car. Mom would play a VHS tape over and over again while cleaning house with a Winston cigarette dangling from her lips of a live performance of a Tom Jones concert. It was called Live, at this Moment. It was on repeat so much so that I could dance as a child and imitate all of your movements. Let’s be honest. Try to. I have no rhythm, but in my mind at the time, I thought we were dancing together. You have a stage presence and can dance like hell. No one can mimic that. I joined choir in junior high and made an excellent alto, mostly from mimicking your vocal patterns. Tuns out, a solid female alto is a rare find. It carried me through my remaining schooling years and awarded me a college scholarship. My initial audition song was Delilah. Pretty weird song for a 12 year old to sing. You should have seen my coral teacher’s faces, but its what I knew.

(Tom, how sick are you of performing that song over all these decades? Honestly? Its a good one, though)

Nothing excited me more to see pop-culture references of you throughout my life. I always thought of it as a sort of inside knowledge that only I was in on. Obviously not, but for me it seemed like it. When With These Hands was used in the movie Edward Scissorhands, I cried in the theatre. That was my mom’s favorite song of yours. She had many, but that was the one she selected when I asked. When you had a cameo on the Simpsons, I hastily slapped a VHS tape in the VCR and recorded it to watch over and over. Something about Mr Burns kidnapping you to perform for Marge in order to woo her made complete sense. Of course Marge Simpson was a Tom jones fan.

It was not cool to be into singers from decades past when you are in junior high and high school. Teenagers are so concerned with image and fitting in. This quickly drops off once one is launched into the real world of college and the workplace. Why was everything so embarrassing as a teenager? If I could go back and tell 14-year old Christine anything, it would probably be “Stop caring what everyone thinks, because it does not matter” and also maybe “having a boyfriend isn’t the most important thing in the world. Focus on you.” That’s another essay altogether. Anyway, hell is high school. Luckily, my cousin shared this Tom Jones oddity with me. Her mom, my Aunt Judy, was also a fan. We would go on long road trips together, singing loudly in the backseat for hours. It was hard to imagine that a girl in a flight jacket and Mohawk and her cousin who was a Mod in stolen bowling shoes singing in a ska band were so very in to Tom Jones. I tried to convince my band to do a version of Its Not Unusual, but it was unanimously vetoed. I still think that would have been one hell of a cover. I mean, we were a ska band. We had a horn section and a stand-up bass. Seemed like a perfect fit. The world’s loss, I guess.

I only got to see you perform live once. You came to my hometown of Fresno, CA which was rare. Usually, mom would drive to Vegas to see you. My mother absolutely loved Vegas. The bright lights, the excitement, and of course the gambling. Turns out, she had a bit of a problem with gambling. Enough so, I refuse to partake. I learned by watching that it can be a dangerous game. I get it. It has always been an alluring place, by design. She was a moth to a flame. This one time, however, you played locally. She took me to see you perform. She was very annoyed with our seats. She would always get front row usually, but this time the tickets sold out too fast and we were in the middle. She was accustomed to a certain type of experience when she saw you. She knew how to bribe ushers with cash slipped into palms to get upgraded. This was not her preferred experience. I confess I’m not sure what year this would have been, but I think it was between 1994-1997. Vague, I know. I remember the night, though. I had never been to a concert with my mom before, and we were seeing you. It was important to me, because it was important to her. All these years she had gone and seen you and this time, I got to go with her. The seats weren’t VIP, but they weren’t bad. You sounded great. Of course you did. It was a soft, summer night and the concert was at an outdoor amphitheater. Mom always said that you sounded better live than on the recordings, which I have to agree. She once told me a story about a time she saw you live during a storm. The electricity went out in the venue and you sang accapella and everyone in the hall could hear you and it made the hair on her arms stand up. It was that amazing. My mom was angry with the amount of people throwing pairs of underwear on stage. She said that was tacky, and the real fans would never do that. She said real fans hand you a silk scarf to wipe your sweat with, and you would hand it back as a memento. She had a collection of these from all the shows. She had a sewing room, and kept the scarves in a glass vase next to her sewing machine and no one was allowed to touch it. I remember going to Macy’s with her, to carefully select and purchase these silk handkerchiefs solely for this purpose. She always chose silk because the stain would remain visible. This was normal, day-to-day life for me with my mom. I’m not sure how many times she saw you live, but I’d like to say it was upwards of 20-30 times, maybe more. The time I saw you live, she gave me the scarf and wanted me to go hand it to you. I did, but I was so embarrassed. You looked 10 feet tall to me. I was a scrawny, blonde teenager and clearly out of place. Of course you looked that way to me. God-like. Can you imagine growing up in a household where a parent loved someone so much, they’d save their body fluid?

Tom, I’m struggling to remember what my mom said you smelled like. I remember her saying it may have been a hint of Patchouli. Am I remembering that right?

Around this time, mom met and struck up a friendship with a woman living in Santa Barbra that was in charge of an official Tom Jones fan club. I’m sure there have been, and still are many. She had an unusual name. “Lala”. Not just a nickname, that was printed on her driver’s license. I remember her being as odd as her name. My mother would make me go on trips to see her, which were terribly boring. I remember sitting in her 2 bedroom apartment, petting her orange cat and looking on as they chatted about you and your music. Lala, my aunt, and mom started coordinating Vegas trips regularly to attend your shows together. We eventually started referring to my mom as the “Vice President of the Tom Jones fan club”. At least then I could give this strange obsession a name.

I want to state for the record that for all the passion and obsessiveness my mom had with you, she was never what I consider a stalker. She never believed you’d meet and fall in love. Never thought you’d spot her in the crowd and ask her backstage. Never thought you were singling her out or sending secret messages just to her. She never sent you letters or tried to find your hotel. She was just a fan. A huge one. I understand that celebrities have many people who become obsessed to a level that is dangerous to a person’s personal safety. I cant imagine anything scarier. From what I know and remember, she wasn’t that. She loved the music and your performance. Of course, she also thought you were devilishly handsome. The epitome of the perfect man. Well-dressed, talented, worldly, object of many women’s desires. Now that I’m a fully-formed adult and not swooning over dirty rockers with long hair and tattoos, I would have to say I agree.

She never met you. Only brushed fingers with you when passing handkerchiefs.

My father hated this, by the way. He was jealous. He didn’t necessarily resent her for it, he just didn’t care for it. How could he not? His wife kept a jar of “sweat rags” of another man in a makeshift shrine. He quietly accepted that you were the other man in our house, as did I. He loved my mom very much and just wanted her to be happy. Unfortunately for him, her happiness lied with you, the trappings of Vegas, and gambling. Unfortunately for my mom, my father’s happiness lied in the drink. Of course I won’t go into it, but my parents had a troubled marriage. Both sought escape from their lives. One chose booze, the other you. I like to think that there were 4 people raising me in my house: Mom, Dad, whiskey and Tom Jones. It wasn’t too bad until my mom left in the middle of Christmas dinner with a house full of friends and family and drove to Las Vegas. Neither my dad nor I heard from her for almost a week. When she came back, they got a separation. I was 17 years old. It’s not because of you, Tom. I think escapism is a sign of deep unhappiness. If she weren’t escaping with you, it would have been something else.

I can’t not think of you when I think of my mom. I like to think of her at Bally’s, dressed in the teal-green pantsuit and gold strappy heels she would only wear to see you. Walking down the strip in a cloud of White Diamonds perfume, mixed with cigarettes. Her honey-colored hair done in curls, frozen in hairspray. I picture her sitting in the front row, center. I imagine you, dressed in your perfect black and white suit under the stage spotlight singing just to her. Any song in the repritore except for What’s New Pussycat or Thunderball, the only ones she hated. Sorry, Tom. Even the biggest fans aren’t fans of everything.

If you’re curious, I think my favorite is Love Me Tonight. It’s a hard choice.

Patricia Heeley, my mother, passed away in September of 2001. I was 22 years old. I don’t want to disrespect her memory by printing the details, but I will say that it was sudden and without warning. It was a shock to all of us, and we quickly threw together a memorial service for her. Well, my Aunt Judy did, as my father and I couldn’t bear to do it. That service happened to be on 9/11. Yes, THAT 9/11. Everyone in the world was devastated by the national tragedy. I was dealing with my own. Throughout the service and following reception, we played only your music. I sat in the reception space of the cremation facility, holding my father’s hand as I Who Have Nothing wafted through the speakers. I could not listen to any of your albums for a very long time after this day. I hope you understand.

My dad never recovered from this loss. He passed in 2007.

Today, I am a 41 year-old bartender and working writer in Portland, OR. I moved out of Fresno after dad died. Sometimes you need a big change in order to be able to try and move on. Over the years of being here, I’ve managed to make an ok life for myself. Thinking of Fresno makes me incredibly homesick, and the few times I’ve gone back, its nearly broken my heart so I avoid it. I think that’s what made Portland so attractive to me. Its completely different than Fresno, and miles and miles away from Las Vegas. Back then, I was a corporate business manager. The first few months after moving here, I found myself sitting in a karaoke bar with work colleagues. Its someone’s birthday, and I’m there to play nice and get to know everyone better. Although we are out at a bar, i have to remain professional and I can’t let my hair down. I’m dressed in my stuffy business attire, trying to crack jokes and be personable without having too much to drink. Being my father’s daughter, this is hard. A tall, thin guy in his 20’s hops up on stage and takes the microphone. He proceeds to sing Kiss, but not the Prince version. He does the Tom Jones version. It came out of nowhere, and he absolutely nailed it. I begin to cry. Cry in a round leather booth with 4 other people who were directly under me and I was their boss. I hide it well, stating the cigarette smoke from the patio was triggering my allergies. Everyone thinks that’s normal, and goes back to their drinks. I excuse myself to the bathroom. I go up to this stranger an give him a bear hug and thank him for doing the Tom Jones version with all the right inflections. He looks confused and frankly, a little scared. I back off. It just seemed like he was in my special club. The one I’ve been in since birth.

Today, I have a strange relationship with you and your music. Videos of you make me cry. I regularly play your LPs on Mother’s Day and January 27th, Mom’s birthday. Also, when I want to meditate and smoke grass. Sometimes, just to get a good cry in. It’s not all negative associations. If I find a Tom Jones record at the thrift shop, I have to buy it. Even if I already have it. I need to save it and have it in my house. Sometimes I’ll get drunk and yell all the words and really wow (scare) my friends when it happens to come on in a bar because people appreciate the classics a little more. Sometimes I play your albums in my bar and if anyone complains, I tell them to shut the hell up or I throw them out. Tom Jones, I want you to know that you are important to me. When I see you, I see my mother. I hope to see you perform again, but honestly I don’t know if my heart could take it. I know you are a famous musician, with millions of fans. I just wanted you to know the story of just one of them.

The old home town looks the same

As I step down from the train

And there to meet me is my mama and papa.

Down the road I look and there comes Mary

Hair gold and lips like cherries.

Its good to touch the green, green grass of home.

Yes, they’ll all come to meet me, arms reaching, smiling sweetly.

Its good to touch the green, green grass of home.

Why I don’t like hot dogs.

3 Feb

I grew up lower-middle class in a bad part of town in Fresno, California. My dad worked blue-collar, laying asphalt for the city. The first and only job he had after two tours of duty in Vietnam. My mom was an office manager of an auto-body shop. We lived in a small, two-bedroom house on the same block that my parents grew up as children. My grandparents lived on the next street over, in the house my dad was raised. At one point, I think this was a fine neighborhood. By the time I was born in 1979, this neighborhood had become dangerous. Filled with gang activity, drug-deals, and those doing whatever they can to get by. My grandparents were too old (their opinion) to move, so my dad wanted to stay in our house to be near them and keep an eye on them in this tumultuous environment. This was not the best decision for his family, but that was the decision dad made and he was known to fear change. My mother always resented this. Thus, I grew up in a house where I had no neighborhood children to play with. I wasn’t even allowed to be in my front yard without a parent present. I never learned to ride a bike because the streets were too dangerous. I couldn’t walk to the corner store I could see from my house with pocket-change to buy candy or ice cream unless my parents walked with me. I also couldn’t go to the schools that were in the neighborhood, according to my mother. A compromise amongst my parents was that if they were going to raise their first, and only child in this dangerous environment, I would go to a private school. The only ones in Fresno at that time were catholic schools. There were no such things as “Charter Schools” then. It was public or Catholic, that’s it. From Kindergarten to the middle of 7th grade, my parents dedicated a significant amount of the household income to send me to a school all the way across town. I had 3 hours a day of religious study, no history, no science class, and math that included simple arithmetic only. It was “safer” but the kids were mean. I had straight “A’s”, was athletic, awkward, an ugly duckling, and had zero friends. I spent my free time as a child reading book after book in my bedroom closet. It was my escape. It also kept me from being nearly illiterate as my classmates appeared to be due to the stellar teaching of unqualified teachers and no state regulations. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me all the books I wanted, so my mom just started letting me read any of hers. I read Stephan King’s It at 8 years old. The nuns almost fainted when I brought it to school with me in my backpack and called a parent-teacher meeting with them. Mom decided if I could read at that level, I should be allowed. She pretty much gave those nuns the middle-finger. My mom was an atheist. Thank god for this, because without this freedom and love for reading, I’m not sure I could have gone on to be a successful member of society with the education I was being given. A disgustingly expensive “education”. To this day, this is the biggest scam and rip-off I’ve ever witnessed that literally hurts families and children in many ways. In case you’re wondering, yes. I got smacked with a ruler. I’m not afraid of clowns like 99% of the populous seems to be. I get a chill when I see a nun. My boogey-man wears a full habit. Because of the tuition burden of this “school”, our day-to-day living was very simple. Dinners included casseroles, shake and bake-coated pork chops, canned vegetables, and of course hot dogs.

Hot dogs were never my favorite, but I’d eat them. No choice but to. My childhood dinners went as following, ranked by a 7-year old me:

  1. Pizza night (Round table personal pepperoni and olive just for me with a bitchin’ coloring page depicting a medieval scene that I could color while eating)
  2. Frozen food night (I got to go down the frozen dinner isle and pick anything I wanted. Usually French bread pizza)
  3. Taco night (pre-formed taco shells, ground beef with the seasoning packet, shredded cheddar cheese.)
  4. Steak and velveeta mac n cheese. (Well done, pre-cut dry meat by mom, delicious creamy lovely side)
  5. Enchilada casserole. From the Betty Crocker cookbook. It’s actually still really good. Better as an adult.
  6. Hamburger helper. It’s ok.
  7. Spaghetti night. A pound of ground hamburger, a jar of Ragu, boiled noodles.
  8. Drive-thru. Even as a kid, I disliked McDonald’s. It never seemed like real food. Of course, I liked the toy.
  9. Pork chops. Covered in shake and bake. I haven’t eaten a pork chop since I’ve moved out of my parents house. Hate.
  10. Hot dogs. I would have mom broil the skin till it was almost black, in a plain bun, cheddar cheese on top. It’s food.

That was my childhood. I know back then, if you opened a can of green beans for your child you believed you were giving them something healthy. We know better now, but I’m sure many of you can relate to the Heeley family meal-plan. My parents both worked full-time, didn’t make a lot of money, and were paying an exorbitant tuition. I know they did the best they could with what they had. This is not an attack on them. I know they believed the private schools were the best for me. Give the options at the time, I’d tend to agree. As I got older, I became wiser. Around 7th grade, I started to notice the serious lack in my education. I would watch tv programs and see kids in high school depicted doing multiplication tables, having lockers and giving speeches in front of class on things in history I knew nothing about. It was becoming obvious I was missing out on things that seem to be completely normal for others. I also had even less friends than I had before. I was viewed as an outcast, weird, ugly. Boys would dare each other to kiss “the freak” on the cheek for money at recess. The girls couldn’t talk to me about The New kids on the block and lipgloss. None of the boys liked me. They called me names like “Casper, the ugly ghost” and blew spit wads into my hair anytime the ancient nun’s backs were turned. This meant, I had no crushes. They thought I was “gay”. Back then, in a religious school, that rumor is worse than nearly anything. My attempts at jokes sailed over their heads and my vocabulary was not like theirs. I’m not saying I was some genius. The years of reading book after book in isolation made me a little different than kids who were only made to read bible verses and nothing else. Right before winter break, one of the popular girls was having a birthday party at the local ice skating rink. Every single person in my grade was invited except for me. I told my mom about it. My mom called the girl’s mom to ask her why. They girl’s mom said “C’mon, Pat. You know why. Your daughter is weird, and frankly can’t afford to come. We’re doing a ‘prince and princess-dress’ theme. We just thought this would be easier for everyone”. I heard my parents shouting and arguing outside late into the night after that. The next day, my mom called the school and said I was sick. She called out to work as well. This has never happened before. We went to Burger King. I got to order whatever I wanted, and my mom asked me if I wanted to go back to that school. I said I wanted to go to a normal school. One where I could wear regular clothes, mascara if I wanted to and have a locker and gym clothes like my cousin Angie did. Mom explained that because my Dad went to catholic school, he wanted that for me as well and believed it was truly the best education. I started to tell my mom about what was going on in there and she listened. By the time Winter break was over, I was enrolled in the rich Fresno public school… using a bogus address. The very one my cousin was going to. I’d know at least someone, even if we didn’t always get along. We went shopping and I got to buy regular clothes for the first time. I had no idea what to buy, so I let my mom pick out everything for me. I had been in a uniform for my entire life, so I didn’t even know what I should get or what I liked. I think she felt some pressure too. She wanted the kids to like me. She took me to a makeup counter and we got some lipgloss, eyeshadow, and mascara. Strictly forbidden in a catholic school. I held these three things as if they were extreme luxury items. I remember this time as being some of the most fun I’ve had with my mom. I think she always wanted me to have a normal childhood, but was conflicted with pleasing my dad. I came home from the mall with my new makeup on. He took one look at me, And said it was too much and left the house to go to the bar. Honestly, my parents marriage never really seemed to be the same after that point.

Adjustment into public school was intense, especially coming in to the middle of a school year. I went from being in a 7th grade class of 16 students, to a seventh grade class of 755. It was like coming from a one-room farm schoolhouse in rural Alabama and walking into an inner-city school in New York, from my perspective. I had never used a combination lock before, and now I have my own locker for all my books. At the catholic school I only had 3…a bible, a religion workbook, and an English book fit for a below-average student in the 1st grade. Now I had a hard-bound book for every class that I had to cover with a carefully-folded brown paper bag. I had a gym class with another locker, gym clothes, and actual exercise. There were showers and a pool to swim in when the weather was warm. I had periods. Classes in different rooms, in different buildings, and bells to pay attention to. Before, I sat in the same desk, same room all day long. There was a cafeteria, a snack bar, a pizza bar, a frozen yogurt station, as well as a student store that sold snacks, like candy and chips. Before now, the only option was bringing your own lunch. After nearly 7 years of pb&j sandwiches with chips and a cookie, this was overwhelming. Everything was going 90 miles per hour, and everyone seemed so adult. I was lost and late to every class. All the teachers were nice and helpful. None of them yelled at me or punished me with a ruler. Even when I got caught chewing gum even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to. I had female and male teachers. I’d never had a man as a teacher before. I couldn’t get my locker open and a girl that had one next to me offered to help. I’d never had a classmate help me with anything before. She didn’t make fun of me or called me any names. I gave her my illegal pack of gum to say “thank you”.

That first week was intense and confusing, but I was free. Here, I wasn’t weird. I didn’t talk differently or look differently. People asked a lot of questions, but were nice and just inquisitive. Its not common for a new girl to start school in the middle if the year, and they were curious of where I came from. In speech class, I overheard a boy tell another that he thought I was pretty. No one other than a family member had ever said that before about me. I had made some friends. I had to choose an elective at this school. I picked choir, as I had been singing in one not by choice in catholic school. I had an ear for it because of that, and got a solo nearly immediately. No one cared that I lived in the poor part of town. My very first day in math class, I sat down to a chalkboard full of symbols. This was algebra. I had never seen it before. My last math class we were just learning how to do 6×8. I had to go to a tutor, and I continued to have to for the rest of my school career. I went to a school dance. My very first. I mean, Jesus wouldn’t have approved of such a thing. My mom curled my hair and did my makeup. A popular eighth-grade boy asked me to dance. I thought this was another one of those dare jokes. My new friends practically shoved me toward him. I didn’t want everyone to start making fun of me. He put his arms around me and we slow-danced to Brian Adam’s mega-hit at the time, ‘Everything I do, I do it for You’ from the blockbuster Robin Hood featuring Kevin Costner. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a boy before. My entire body was blushing and I didn’t know what to do. I was sweating though my jeans and top my mom selected for me and my curls began to fall. He looked at me. I got scared and ran away back to my friends lined up against the bleachers. We never talked or interacted again, even though we continued to go to school together until senior year. I’m sure he just thought I didn’t like him. I just wasn’t ready for any of that.

Junior high is a strange time. Adolescents coming into their own, as well as discovering their budding sexualities. Back then, we didn’t have the internet, cell phones, or social media. If you wanted to call your crush, you had to not only get their number, which had huge social implications, you had to call their house phone which means you’d probably have to talk to their mom or dad…or worse, an asshole sibling to even get them on the phone. Oh, ps phone calls cost a lot of money back then so you had to make it quick and both parties’ parents will likely be breathing down your neck and be pissed the phone call is happening in the first place. It was nerve wracking. This means that many school ‘hook-ups’ happened during recess or after school. This would involve an elaborate system of passing notes, verbal messages carried amongst friends and good old fashioned rumors. Often if someone “likes” another, everyone knows about it and it’s the talk of the schoolyard. Just like the fan-favorite, the school-yard fight, an official hook-up will most likely draw an audience and will be pre-arranged. It was a very different time then, clearly. The first time I kissed a boy was that same year I joined public school.

One Of his friends told one of mine that he liked me. We had last period, English, together. We had never talked before, but I knew who he was. I had never had anyone “like” me before. My friends told his friend that I was open to it. I’m not sure if I approved that message. The next think I knew, we were to meet by the lockers 5 minutes before the final lunch bell. A small crowd had gathered, and my cousin had to drag me. Physically. I remember the heels of my little ankle boots my mom selected skidding across the asphalt. There I was, face-to face with the boy from English. He said “um, hi” and he grabbed each of my hands in his. I had never held hands with anyone before. Our audience was chanting KISS! KISS! KISS! Internally, I was panicking. I was not ready to do this. Why were so many people watching? He lunged at me and shoved his tongue in my mouth. It was profusely-salival, overwhelming, and the roar of the cheers of our crowd was embarrassing. This was my first kiss. This was not romantic, and the sensation of someone’s tongue on mine was so intrusive and bizarre for me. It was nothing like the movies I’ve been watching since I was a little girl. I had been dreaming of this moment my entire life. His tongue darted in and out of my mouth and our mingled saliva dripped down my chin. As the hot Fresno sun beamed down on us I couldn’t escape the simple fact that his mouth tasted distinctly like one thing.

Hot dogs.

It was after lunch. It was clear what he had.

His mouth tasted like a big, fat, boiled, cafeteria-grade hot dog.

I have never eaten a hot dog since.

How I Broke My Ribs With a Can of Soup.

30 Jan

Up until this point, I have never broken a bone.  I managed to get through a pre-teen track phase, cheerleading phase, a teenage angsty skateboarding phase, into becoming a full-blown workaholic under sometimes questionable business practices.   Ones that led me to dragging 30-pound shipment boxes up a 12-foot ladder without breaking anything.  I’m accident prone, for sure.  There have been bruises, concussions, stitches and sprains… but never a broken bone.  I can’t say that this happening when I’m near 40-years old is the most ideal time to break one.  It would have been way more ideal for this to happen when I was in my vivacious teens or 20’s, where my body would have probably snapped back within a week or two with no problems.  Now I’m probably looking at a life-long injury.  Lots of people break bones.  After this experience, I’ve discovered a lot of people I know have broken their ribs, in particular.  Me breaking my ribs isn’t really anything interesting.  How I did it might be.  I broke my ribs on a can of soup.

Me, 1994. Full of teenaged-angst.

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I suppose Canned Campbell’s soup is one of the ultimate comfort foods for me.  I mean, of course it isn’t as yummy as a simmering crock-pot full of pot roast or a plate of my aunt’s melt-in-your mouth gnocchi…but it is comforting to me in the respect that I may have eaten more Campbell’s condensed soup cans than anyone else in my age group. Probably not, but I dare say I’ve eaten more than most.

My mom was a working mother, and took no joy in the art of cooking.  She had a hot, prepared meal on the table most nights of my childhood.  If not, there was drive-through.  Always pizza on friday nights for my dad, wich was his favorite.  She had no passion for cooking.  Most of the meals were gleaned from the Betty Crocker’s Cookbook or from recipes on the backs of pre-packaged foods.  I think a lot of us ate that way back then in the 70’s and 80’s. Not to say those meals weren’t tasty for a kid.  Some of my favorites included an enchilada casserole from the afore-mentioned cookbook, taco night which consisted of pre-packaged taco shells and ground beef seasoned with a Lawry’s seasoning packet, and steak night complete with Velveeta Shells and Cheese and canned green beans.  All of which was of course served with a big, tall glass of milk.  I fucking shudder to think about all that milk I drank, but that was what was believed to be good for kids at the time.  We also believed a can of soft and mushy green beans were nutritious.  That brings us to canned, condensed soup.

My favorite lunch on the weekends when I was a kid was a bowl of soup with a grilled cheese sandwich.  I had favorites:  Chicken and stars, chicken alphabet, vegetable beef.  In the 80’s the licensing of products exploded, so there would also be  Star Wars-shaped chicken noodle, Teenage mutant Ninja Turtles, Smurfs… you name it.  Those didn’t always taste as good but they were magical.  Getting to eat a bowl of soup featuring your favorite characters always somehow made it seem way more exciting.   Sometimes, you could cut the label off of those special character-themed cans and behind it would reveal a game such as a maze or a connect-the-dots.  Those were the best.  A meal and a prize all in one.   I ate so much condensed soup in my house that all of our 70’s era Tupperware plastic bowls had a permanent ring burnt in them at the exact level as one can of soup and one can of water would leave after being in the microwave for 2.5 minutes.  The grilled cheese would be two pieces of white bread, with kraft singles in the middle toasted in the oven on the broil setting with the door propped slightly open.  Nothing fancy, but I still have a very real, and very gross attraction to shitty-ass American cheese slices. The sandwich would always come out perfectly brown, and cut diagonally.  I would sit at the coffee table and watch MTV, eat soup and a sandwich, then go back out to play in my backyard.  My mom passed away in 2001, which still surprises me about how long ago that was.  Those were good memories.

My childhood.

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It wasn’t just my mom that would serve this to me.  Both my grandmothers would as well.  Grandma Heeley would mostly make me the classic chicken noodle or chicken and stars.  She also would serve me what is now my ultimate favorite and the hardest to find Campbell’s soup of them all:  Old Fashioned Vegetable.  Old Fashioned Vegetable, with its strange broth, little button-shaped noodles and diced carrots and peas…it still remains my favorite.  It is so hard to find.  When I do find it, I buy 10 at a time.  Its the best soup I’ve ever had…inexplicably so.  As a kid I fucking hated it.  I mean, it literally looks like something served in a hospital cafeteria.  The broth is watery, slightly green-tinted and remotely beef bouillon-esque.  No little kid wants to eat that vs Chicken and Stars.  Grandma Heeley always had it, and it reminds me of days spent at her house after feeding the ducks at the park scraps of bread and trips to Kmart where I was given $10 and free-reign in the toy department.  Dessert would be cups of lime jello she made in anticipation of my visit with canned peaches in the bottom in her amazing cut-crystal champagne glasses.  The afternoons would be filled with playing cards with my grandpa, watching prime time shows he taped on the VCR that were on after he went to bed, eating roasted peanuts in the shell and clipping coupons.  Her grilled cheeses were more complex.  She always had bagels, and she would toast me one with Velveeta melted on both halves in her toaster oven.  The cheese would melt down into the hole of the bagel and get all crispy and brown.  It was delicious.  I still own that very same toaster oven to this day.  Whenever I make something in it I can’t help but think of how many times meals have been made in it, as well as how many treats I’ve eaten from it in my lifetime.  It is probably one of my most prized possessions.

 

                         There she is.  In all her glory.

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As an adult, I still keep plenty of cans of soup on hand.  Sometimes I buy the fancier kinds…but I always want to revert back to the Campbell’s I know and love.  These days it tends to be vegetable, minestrone, chicken alphabet (still), Old-Fashioned Vegetable if I can find it, and Chicken and Rice.  I know its garbage-food, but it’s just so comforting.  More so than anything else. That brings us to present day.  How did my most beloved food break my fucking ribs?

I work a lot.  I mentioned before that I consider myself a work-a-holic.  I’ve been this way since highschool.  Back then I was in school, took AP classes, was a member of 3 choirs, sang in a ska band, was a journalist for a local paper, authored a zine, photographed for a different local paper, as well as volunteered for endangered LGBTQ youths.  This behavior of having an over-full plate did not stop into my adult life.  I have to keep busy.  If I don’t, I fall into a deep depression.  I can’t just do nothing.  If I’m not filling my time with activities, I feel like its time wasted.  As I get older, I realize I can’t keep going like this.  I need to slow down and enjoy life.  This accident definitely made me see the insanity of my workload.   I have 3 bartending jobs, working 6 days a week total.  This leaves me very little time to do many things such as grocery shop, laundry, running errands…you know normal person shit.  I get very tired of eating the food at all three places that I work at.  Nothing against any of the menus, but you can only eat the same few things for so many years before you start to feel insane…and disgusted.  Not to mention, unhealthy.  Bar food isn’t necessarily there for nourishment.  It’s there to soak up the booze so you can get home or continue to drink.  Eating the food at my work lead me to gain 20 pounds over the last year.  Across the three menus of the 3 establishments I work at we offer nachos, quesadillas, pizza, burgers, and onion rings.  Fuck.  I now carry a can of soup in my purse at all times. it’s an option that’s always there.  No matter what, there’s soup.  Light, vegetables, satiating and most important…not work food.

Me, circa 1997.  Getting ready to go on-stage with my ska band.

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Like I’ve probably hammered home by now, I work a LOT.  This means I never see my friends.  The odds of their schedule just happening to line up with mine is impossible.  I felt like a hermit.  I decided to make plans for lunch with my friend Kyle on a Monday no matter what.  I hadn’t seen him since Christmas.  Unfortunately, Monday was met with a blizzard and an ice storm.  In fact, this is the coldest winter in Portland history since the 30’s.  Even that wouldn’t stop me.  Kyle and I live 4 blocks from each other.  No excuses.  We decided to meet somewhere on our street.  He picked the place.  I would need to walk 6 blocks.  I suited up and headed out.

This snow storm was bad for everyone.  The city didn’t know how to handle it.  Even though it seems to snow here once a year, every time its like the weather has never been seen before.  The city of Portland had to borrow 12 snow plows from seattle to combat the pile up on the roads.  Also, the sidewalks.  No one salts or shovels their walks here.  The salt is frowned upon as its viewed as an environmental hazard by Oregon’s overly- liberal populous.  The shoveling lack would be due to sheer laziness or, perhaps ignorance?  Either way, the sidewalks and roads became death traps as the Trimet derailed, buses slid into snow banks, dozens of car accidents occurred as well as people being so terrified of road conditions vehicles were abandoned on the side of the highway.   I’ve lived in Portland for some time now, so I’ve learned to adapt to best of my ability to the conditions.  Slips and falls are common no matter how careful you are. I was being very prudent as I toddled my way to meet Kyle for lunch.  I never took my eyes off the ground.  I was taking careful baby-steps and doing the recommended “penguin waddle”, and was avoiding the ominous-looking slick areas.  I was going at a snail’s pace.

This is a very familiar walk for me.  I’ve lived on Alberta street for over 3 years now.  I passed Petite Provance (who had a sidewalk line to get in, even in this weather), and began to pass in front of Trade Up Music.  This is where it happened.  There was a massive patch of glimmering sidewalk stretched out in front of the length of the building.  I took a chance and stepped on to it.  I immediately started to slip.  My feet slid back and forth underneath me and I couldn’t get control of them.  I continued to slide and slip of what felt like a very long time.  My feet skidding out from under me, every which way like a Looney Tunes character.  There was no where for me to go and nothing to hang on to.  I knew I was going to fall.

I have very severe Scoliosis.  I was diagnosed when I was 14 years old. They told me back then that I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was 25 if I didn’t have a series of invasive back surgeries, including a metal rod fused to my spine.  They told me once it was done, I wouldn’t be able to curl my back anymore.    I would be in a permanent, upright position and would have to continue to have surgeries for the rest of my life.  Doesn’t that sound appealing?  Especially as a teenage girl?  At 16, I decided that wasn’t the life I wanted to have.  I made the decision to go as long as I could without any operations and hope technology would advance on this matter in the future to something more livable for the patient.  My parents supported my choice, although reluctantly.  My mom was very worried about what my future would look like but didn’t force me to go ahead with the procedures.  I believe I made the right choice.  I am not in a wheelchair, however I have to be extra careful of what I do if I want to preserve this back and live a normal life.  When I started to fall, instinct was to protect my delicate, curved spine.  I twisted, and fell on my left side.  My purse swung underneath me as I made impact, the entire contents of  it forced between my ribs and the concrete.  Those contents including one can of Campbell’s Chicken noodle soup.  Imagine the force of your body weight slamming a can of soup into your rib cage.  I felt it when it went in.  A white-hot sharp pain went through my chest and straight to my heart.   I was fucked.  There was no question in that moment that I had broken something.  I yelled out in pain, splayed out on the ice and couldn’t move.  Never in my life did I believe I could have a fall this devastating when alcohol was in no way involved.

I’m not sure how long I actually was lying there.  It felt like 10 minutes, but I’m sure it wasn’t.  No one came to help me up, and people heading to get brunch or fucking Salt & Straw stepped around me as I lay face down groaning.  I’m not sure why I was surprised.  When I finally did attempt to push myself up, my chest lit up with horrible pain and I fell down again.  I managed to roll over on my uninsured side and drag myself with my right arm across the ice until I got to the end of the patch to the actual street and pushed myself up.  Once I got upright, the pain wasn’t as bad.  I had hopes that it was just bruised badly.  Bruises suck, but t hey heal a hell of a lot faster than broken bones.  I met up with Kyle to get a stupid burger at goddammed Little Big Burger.

The burgers are whatever, but damn…those truffle fries.

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Sitting down was excruciating.  Breathing was excruciating .  Kyle making me laugh hurt so bad, I wanted to throw up.  Halfway through this meal I knew for sure that this was no bruise.  I was riding the glorious adrenaline wave your body provides you when you hurt yourself, but it was quickly wearing off.  This was serious.  Lucky for me, I had to be to work in 3 hours.  There was no time to get anyone to cover my shift at that point.  What’s worse, I worked the next 4 days across 3 different bars.  That’s what I mean about my workload being insane.  It’s already a crazy amount of work and a schedule no one in their right mind would want.  If I get sick, or in this instance break a fucking bone, getting emergency shifts off effects so many people and schedules it’s near impossible.  Not to mention, that ice storm that landed me here in the first place (pun intended).  People were struggling to get to work.  No public transit, no cabs, no Lyfts or Über, unsafe road conditions.  I had to just suck it up and go to work.

I did one full shift and one partial before I could take some medical leave.  All of my coworkers were really understanding and made sure I did as little lifting as possible those days I was there.  Those shifts were so hard.  Probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I made it, though.  The fucked up thing about breaking your ribs is there’s literally nothing they can really do for you.  All they can do is give you pain meds and tell you what you shouldn’t do.  That’s it.  They don’t even want you to wrap it, as it may heal incorrectly with compression.  All you can do is not overextend yourself and wait.  It will take about 3 months for it to fully heal, and that’s only if I manage to not further injure myself in the meantime.

This fall could have been way worse.  I shudder to think what would have happened if I fell on my back.  I’m grateful it wasn’t worse…but it still sucks. I’d like to say every day its feeling better, but as of now it still hurts just the same.  I wake up several times in the night in horrible, icky pain.  Laying down is surprisingly the worst, sitting is a close second.  Weirdly enough, standing is the most comfortable.  That made returning to work possible even though my movements have to be limited.  After my bed-rest I realized I have to give up one of these jobs.  No one should work 6 days a week, not have two days off in a row, and I’ve been doing it for nearly a year.  I’ve been missing out on life, experiences, people I love and hobbies I used to be passionate about.  At the end of the day I chose to miss out on some money and live a little of the life I have instead.

So what do I do with this can of soup?  Friends have suggested I eat that fucker and show it who’s boss around here.  In reality, that can of soup is who’s boss because that  shit didn’t even dent.  No, it dented me instead.  For now, It sits on a shelf on a makeshift shrine as a constant reminder of how fragile I really am and that I need to take care of myself already.  

The actual can.  On its very dusty shrine.  It is physically stronger than me.  Humbling.

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Epilogue

Four days after I broke the ribs, I woke up with a head-cold.  As if I thought it couldn’t get worse, it then did.  Sneezing and coughing with broken ribs is a hell I cannot describe.  My biggest fear was breaking them further every time I had to sneeze.  I normally don’t take a lot of medications, but in this scenario I drugged myself up on any over the counter thing I could find to stop the symptoms. This also lead me to discover a new, fresh hell:  Barfing with broken ribs.  Turns out, eating a ton of pills and then taking your shift drink at the end of the night will not go well.  I do not recommend.  I bought myself health insurance.  I’ll figure out how to pay for it somehow, even though I chose to leave a job.  I can’t do this shit anymore.  I’m too old to be gambling with no insurance.

In writing this blog, I wanted to include a picture of my grandmother’s toaster oven that I’ve been clinging to all these years.  It survived 5 moves across 2 states and still worked like a champ.  While looking for it, I learned that during my house’s kitchen remodel, it got mistaken for garbage and thrown away.  It’s not my roommates fault.  This toaster oven looked absolutely terrible.  I mean, the thing was around before I was born.  The inside was nearly black, the little swinging door was permanently smoked-over dark brown.  I don’t blame them at all for mistaking this as garbage.  I was working too much and didn’t get a chance to go through everything thoroughly before the purge and it got missed.  I became incredibly sad that I let this happen.  I felt devastated and began crying.  I have so few things left of any of my deceased relatives.   Sometimes I feel like my past and my memories of my childhood are slipping away as easy as it was for that toaster oven to get accidentally sent to the dump.  Through writing this piece, I found comfort.  I don’t need to have the physical toaster oven in my kitchen to remind myself of all the meals my grandma made for me in it.  I still remember her, the time we spent together and her essence as a person.  As the years pass, the details fade.  I still remember her.  

R.I.P. Toaster oven.  I will truly miss you.

I got to write…for reals

4 Sep

How I became a professional writer overnight 



I’ve been writing since I was about 14 years old. I mean, of course we all had to write bullshit papers for class and whatnot. I started writing poetry and short stories for fun…both of which literally no one wanted to read. Not even my mother. That’s how I started, though. I’d have to say what really started everything was my passion for reading books. My mom was rarely seen at home without a book in her hand, and I followed suit. I always read, fiercely and passionately. My mom had a massive bookshelf that went floor-to-ceiling and took up an entire wall in my childhood home. No book was off limits. I was reading entire Stephan King novels by the time I was 8 years old. I spent my weekends curled up in my closet with a pillow and snacks reading page after page of any book I could get my hands on. I grew up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Fresno, California. Rough enough that I wasn’t allowed in my front yard without a parent present. This meant I went to private school, and I had no kids to play with on my block. My neighborhood was comprised of gangs and drugs. This meant weekends and after school spent inside, reading. This made me a weird kid. I had a vast vocabulary for my age and wasn’t very socialized. I struggled to relate to the kids in my school, which made me withdraw and read more. My grades shot through the roof, which made me even more of an outcast. I was incredibly lonely.
When I was 14 years old, I began dating a man who was 23. It was completely inappropriate, and something I struggle with every day as far as the implications on my psyche. This is also a subject for a complete, other story if I feel like ever writing it. From that union, that lasted over a year, I got my first professional writing break. He was working for the Twin City Times, which was the local paper for Caruthers, Riverdale, and Raisin City. He was a reporter, and got me a job reporting as well. I wrote for that paper for 3 years,while I was still in high school. I’m going to go ahead and say I was terrible. They assigned me to sports,which I knew zero about. Every article I ever wrote for them was a chore, and I hated it. I was a professional sports writer and photographer for three years and I swear to god I still have no idea how football is played or what the rules are. True story.
After high school, I put myself through college for an English/ journalism degree with a minor in photography. I didn’t really know what the fuck I was going to ultimately do with this degree, I just knew that these were the things I was good at so it made sense. I only wrote for school purposes, received good marks…but sort of started hating it. I ended up writing and editing other student’s papers for money all around campus. I finished college with a sense of dread. What the hell was I going to do? Pretty sure National Geographic isn’t hiring…so where do I go from here? I paid my own way through college, which means I worked fucking retail. There was a moment after about a year of graduating where one of my school colleagues came in to the Hot Topic I was managing and tried to put me down for not using my degree. He was teaching at our old high school, Clovis West. He was bragging about making about 25,000 a year. At that time, I was making over 40,000 plus bonuses. He was a teacher and had to still live with his parents. I was 23 years old, lived in my own house, drove a company car, wore designer clothes and went on vacation every other week. I decided to drop my dream of being a journalist and just work a real job, which I did for the next 12 years.
In 2001, my mom passed away. In 2009, my dad did as well. That was all of my family. These events thrust my life into a complete, different trajectory. I didn’t want to live in my home town any longer. Everywhere I looked I saw memories of a family I no longer had. My best friend of 20 years was living in Portland. I visited her, decided that was where I should be and moved. It took me a while to find a job when I got there. I filled my idle time with writing a blog for my friends to read about my experiences with picking up and moving to a new city. At first, maybe 4 people would read it. After a few months, over a hundred. Some of which were complete strangers who just found the content out there on the internet and liked it. The blog became popular, to my complete surprise. I got hired to write bar reviews for the well-recognized Portland institution that is BarFly. With the attention the blog and the barFly gigs propelled me to revisit my 90’s kid roots and do a zine. I had so many orders, I couldn’t keep up. I never thought of myself as a ‘writer’. I always felt like my writing narrative was unsophisticated, and had a juvenile voice. I never thought I could be a writer, or write anything anyone would enjoy reading. One of the last blog post I did, Bagby hot springs, was posted about 2 years ago. It was read in 6 continents, with thousands of views and re-blogged by 17 different websites. I was floored. It’s so weird to imagine that you can float something out on the internet, and have people find it. The internet is a curious thing.
I started getting commissioned for work. People found the blog or found one of my zines, and asked me to do articles for local publications. It was boring, but it kept me writing. I left my retail career and went back to bartending. Turns out, in Portland you can make a decent wage pouring drinks. Nothing like bartending in California. I also went from working 50 hours a week to 35. This meant more time to pursue hobbies.  
A few months ago, The Portland Mercury posted a writing contest. I read the prompt, and knew I would be a contender. I sat down after work, and banged out a story in about 30 minutes. It was good. Sometimes, you just know that you nailed something. I sent it in and got an immediate email back from the editor telling me that my story kicked ass. I waited, checked my email daily. My boyfriend broke up with me. The light of my fucking life. I kept checking that email, hoping I got that win. I did. I won the contest. I was heart-broken, lost…but I got that win. I was published in the mercury, won a cash prize and was validated that people like to read what I write. The day I was told that I won, I had no family to call. No significant other to tell. I woke my roommate up and told him. We hugged and I cried. He asked me if I was ok. I just said that nothing good ever happens to me, and that I was so happy. I was published in the most read paper in Portland, Oregon. Holy shit.
The next week, I was published in the Portland Mercury for the second time. I wrote a short piece for the I, Anonymous column and was published. Two weeks in a row! What did it all mean? I emailed the editor and pitched some story ideas. They were all rejected.
In regards to my writing career, my dreams have always been to write a novel about my ordeal with losing my parents at such a young age. That’s the end game. Before I did that, I wanted to write some stories for the Mercury. That was the top of my writing dreams and aspirations. I told myself if, and only if I was regularly published in the Mercury then maybe I would set my sights a little bit higher and attempt to submit for VICE. I have been a fan of theirs for years. Their style, writing content…it was exactly how I write and what I like to read. Years prior, I had applied to be a photographer for them and was rejected. VICE has always been an elusive brass ring for me.  
I got hired to work for VICE, and I didn’t even apply. Here’s what happened. I was in Seattle, hanging out with friends. One of my friends tagged me in a Facebook post of one of her friends who was asking if anyone knew of any journalists who would be able to cover MFNW for VICE. I saw the tag and thought…pssssh… I ain’t qualified for this. I may or may not have been drinking at a dive by my hotel, and decided to send dude a message. He read my blog, loved it. He sent it to 5 different editors and they loved it as well. I sent the message to him at 10 pm on Thursday evening. By 9 am Friday, I was hired. HOLY SHIT. I was hired for a writing assignment for VICE, and I didn’t even apply. What. The. Fuck. I didn’t even ask if I was going to be paid. I just accepted and didn’t ask a single question outside of if my name would be on the list at the entrance because lord knows I couldn’t afford the price of the wristband for all three days. 
When I got hired, I made the mistake of researching VICE to see what caliber of journalism I was working for. I mean, I already kind of knew, but I wanted to know for sure. Bad idea. Really fucking bad idea. It’s one of the largest journalism outfits in the world. It’s read in 5 continents and worth billions as of 2014. I went into a state of stun. Deer in headlights. This is literally the largest break of my life. People write their entire lives and never get an opportunity like this. I’d like to say I was ecstatic when I got this. I was terrified. What if I fucked up? What if I wrote a shit article? What if this was my peak? The pressure to perform was overwhelming. To make matters worse, I was hired to write for a music festival. I hate modern music. I know shit about shinola. My musical taste peaked out in about 1998 and never progressed. What the fuck was I supposed to write about? My blog is good because I write about things that I’m good at writing about. It’s totally different when you have to write about a subject in which you are not comfortable. Suddenly I was transformed back when I was 14, trying to write about sports that I fundamentally did not understand.  
Everything happened so fast. I was hired Friday morning, which I was scheduled to work at the bar that night. On my drive from Seattle to Portland, I pulled over at some bar and called every co-worker to get my shift covered. I was so scared no one could. This was not an opportunity I could pass up. I did not want to quit my regular gig so that I could do this. Friday and Saturday got covered after about an hour of texting. The festival went all weekend, and I still didn’t have Sunday covered but I was going to be able to go. I’m going to be able to write for VICE. The assignment was intense. Attend the festival all 3 days and produce a unique article at the end of each day, due at noon the following day. I could not believe this was happening.
I arrived at the gates of that festival with my eyes glazed over. I checked in with the box office. I said my name should be on the list. The guy asked me if I was “talent” or “press”. I said “press” very awkwardly. He asked me what outfit I was working for. I said “VICE”. Everyone in the booth stopped at that moment to look at me. That’s when it became real. This is not some local publication. This is not small-time. You are chosen to write to do real fucking journalism. Something every single person recognizes. This is terrifying as fuck. I got my set of wristbands, including the one that singled me out as press. The guy who checked me in kept calling me “ma’am” and shit. This added to my pressure.
I walked into the gates and instantly began to panic. What the fuck was I going to write about? I spent that first day full of anxiety. I tried watching the bands, which were all boring as shit. It was all of that radio-friendly, washed out indie rock that fades into the background. Don’t get me wrong, I like music. I’m not “uncool”. I used to be in a band myself, back in the 90’s. I used to live in a house that was a music venue and used to bed rock stars. Point is, I’m not a square. There’s just nothing about modern music that excites me any longer. Perhaps I’m getting older. Perhaps music just sucks now. All I know is I felt like the exact wrong person to be at this festival, and to be covering it for a national publication. By the end of day one, I managed to produce a humorous article about festival culture. It was published by about 2pm the next day.  
Day two was better and worse. I had way less anxiety. They liked what I was doing, and I knew I was on the right track. It was worse because I was at the same boring festival, but I had to come up with an entirely new idea. I felt the squeeze. The personal pressure was so intense. I spent day two feeling stressed and sick the entire time. My photographer was frustrated with me, as I had no idea what I was going to write, therefore could give her no direction as to what pictures she should be taking. I spent 9 hours at the festival that day, and left with a complete loss as to what I was going to write. This festival was fucking boring. Full of boring music and even more boring attendees. The crowd consisted of soccer moms, kids, teenagers, families, and white people in cargo shorts and floral headbands. The mall on a Wednesday afternoon is more happening than this thing and I was supposed to write interesting articles about it? I ended up producing my most popular article that day…which after I wrote it I was sure it was my weakest. I was pleased the article was doing so well, but it was frustrating because I knew I wasn’t giving them my best. My best article for VICE was the equivalent of my very worst blog article I’ve written. I was getting this one chance, and I couldn’t give it my best because the subject matter was out of my comfort zone.  
Last day. I made a commitment to make this last article my greatest. I thought of a concept. I bounced it off of one of my editors and she loved it. Finally, I had a direction. I seized day three by the balls. I could finally relax, because I had a concept. The only problem? I couldn’t get that Sunday shift covered. That means I had to attend the festival, go to work, close the bar at about 3am, write an article and have it in by noon, then return to work Monday at 7pm. The pressure was daunting. I literally had no idea how I was going to get it done. There was nothing to do but put my head down and push forward. I kept telling myself that this was the greatest writing opportunity of my life, and I just had to deliver. I reminded myself of other struggles I’ve endured: burying my parents, moving to a new state and starting over, the horror-show that was my 7-year relationship falling apart… I told myself that I will do this. I have to. I cannot be handed this opportunity and fuck it up. I got to the festival and realized my wallet wasn’t in my purse. I had it in the cab on the way down. It fell out of my bag. With $300 cash in it. It was gone. I faced the reality. I met with my photographer and told her what the article would be about. She was thankful for finally having some idea of what she was supposed to be doing, and disappeared to work for the rest of the festival. I reached in to my purse. My wallet was gone. I jammed through the festival, taking in all I could. At about 8pm, I took a break. I squatted in an alley with Cheetos and a redbull, gave myself a mental pep talk to now cab it to my bar and work… Then bang out this article overnight. Moving a mounted seemed more possible.  

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I got off work at about 3:30 am. I got home, and speed-wrote about half an article. I passed out at 5:30. I set my alarm for 9 am. I woke up, feeling like I’d been hit by a vehicle. I finished my article, then hit the bathroom to throw up. The physical toll of this overwhelmed me. I dry-heaved for about 30 minutes. My article was submitted by 11:50, it was due by noon. It was over. Did I do as well as I could have? Did I put my all into it? The third article I wrote was my best. I knew it. It was my style, and my voice. I felt satisfied. 
Day three’s article was never published. It wasn’t because of content. There was a problem with the pictures getting to the editor on time as well as VICE being “too busy”. All of my hard work that day was for naught. It was a huge personal let-down for me, as that last article was what I thought was my best and no one will read it. On the other hand, I was published twice for VICE. I should probably shut up about it. The photographer and I both shared our disappointment. I was glad for the job and that I was getting paid. In a stroke of amazing luck, my wallet turned up at the TriMet lost and found. my wallet was recovered, every cent was there. There are good people still in Portland.  


Prologue

The editor of VICE loved my work and invited me to work for them again any time. I was told to just submit story ideas, and they would let me know. That’s it. I became a professional writer. There’s really not much higher that I could shoot for. My only regret is that my parents couldn’t see me do this. I always kind if felt like I let them down because they never got to see me get married or have kids, which they both desperately wanted for me. Beyond that, I think they would have been really proud to see what I have achieved for myself. I left a town I hated to move to an exciting city. I quit an oppressive corporate job to be a bartender, which I love. I became a professional writer, which I love even more. I may not have a traditional life for a 36 year old. I suppose I am lonely. I have failed at finding the love of my life. I suppose I missed out being a mom. I think in another life I would have been a great one. My mom told me once that she wanted to be a writer, but lost the ability. My dad once told me his dream was to retire and be a bartender somewhere. I’ve achieved both of my parents dreams. I did for them what they always wanted to do. I wish they could have been here to see it.  


The Unpublished Article

I got really drunk for 3 days in a row at MFNW (because there was nothing else to do)

Day one: Orientation
I had never been to MFNW before. In fact, most of my adult life I’ve gone ahead and straight up avoided any sort of music festival. Overall I despise the heat, crowds, loud noises, hippies, dirt, stink, kids, and sleeping on the ground with spiders. This pretty much knocks out any festival as a possibility for me. When I was asked to come check this one for the sake of journalism, I conceded. I mean, a huge plus was I didn’t have to camp there. I could go home at the end of each day, relieve myself in a real toilet, wash my hair and undercarriage, sleep in my own bed and have moments away from the melee. That all being said, I still hate large and concentrated groups of people. Granted, this music fest is far less crowded than even your standard Portland street fair. Still, it’s a lot for me. Ever since I got crushed at a Beck concert back in 1997, pressing crowds have given me the straight heebie-jeebies. That means I’ll need to drink to feel comfortable. I didn’t want to get too buzzed, however. I had a lot to take in as well as a job to do. Need to stay focused. I had one cocktail before I walked into the gates.
I timed my arrival perfectly so that I missed that initial opening of the gates line-up. I walked right in with no delay. There was a lot to see and take in. The very first structure to my left of the entrance was the i.d. check and the beer booths. First stop. Ice cold Chardonnay in hand, I made my way down the line of the festival. There were various vendors and food carts lining both sides of the tube that led to the opposite-end stages. Day one I spent drinking very conservatively, feeling awkward and anxious while observing.  

Day two: Brown Out
Now that I knew what to expect, I approached day two with an entire new outlook. Day one was so uneventful. It was actually pretty boring. The people were boring. Fuck me. Another day at this boring-ass music festival? I decided to let loose a bit. I took a cab downtown, stopped off at a bar and got a few cocktails. Walking into the festival, I felt straight awesome. Zero crowd anxiety. That’s when I noticed the place was deserted. A damned ghost town. Brush fires in surrounding Oregon towns met with high winds led to Portland being covered in a noxious fog of ash. People were concerned about their health (oh Portland). I braved it. I walked around, ate some free jerky samples and then made a choice. I was just going to get drunk and see where this day would take me. I was going to say yes to the festival experience and seize it by the fucking groin. I promptly got a glass of red wine and gulped it in two swallows like a massive shot. The rules of the day: Never not have a drink in your hand and go till the very end no matter what.  
After slowly walking back and forth between the stages a zillion times, clumsily spilling red wine on myself, I noticed the booth giving away free haircuts had no line. Shit, I ain’t no dummy. Haircuts are expensive. Sign me up. I mean, how bad of a haircut can I get for free out of a trailer at a music festival? A nice girl named Ginger sat me in her chair and stated cutting my hair. A very young teenager was in the chair next to me getting a haircut. We talked about our first kisses. She told me that she had only kissed one boy before and afterward he never talked to her again and she thought that was stupid. I told her that my first kiss was by a locker at school and he tasted like hot dogs. She said “but was he cute, though?” Way to put it in perspective, girlie. I chugged my wine.  

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After my haircut, I was feeling pretty great. I mean, my stringy locks were now trimmed up and tamed, I was about 5 under at this point and was ready to mingle. I decided to chat up folks that work here. Security, vendors, janitors, sound techs… Anyone that’s behind the scenes to see if they had any interesting stories to tell. I mean, that dude propped up at the lost and found booth has to have seen some shit, right? Turns out, no. No one had one single interesting story to tell me. Time to hit the Jack Daniels cart.
Two $8 cocktails later, I’m ready to listen to some fucking music. Talk in Tongues is on stage and they sound awesome. Also, the music coming from the Dutch Bros. Cart sounds awesome. Sitting down feels awesome. This grass feels pretty good. I’m laying down behind the Doc Martins cart. I’m just going to close my eyes for a minute. I’m taking a full-on nap, sprawled out in a vintage dress in the middle of a music festival. In concordance with Portland kindness, neither my personal effects nor my person were fucked with.  
I’m wakened by laughter and everything is ship-shape. I’ve been on a booze-snooze for approximately 45 minutes. I stand up, collect my things and head to get a glass of wine. Twin towers were about to play. I stand in line to pee and notice quite a few hotties waiting to pee as well. What a weird thing, multiple people lining up to relieve their bodily fluids in a similar hole. I was feeling pretty amazing again. Also, I had just got some beauty sleep and I had a new haircut. A single gal like me might be looking for a little action. I decided to try and pick up someone at the port-a-pottys. I poise myself by the trash cans/ hand sanitizing station for easy conversation. A guy with a man-bun and beard approach to clean up. I ask him how he’s doing. He says he’s doing well. I ask him if he would like to make out. He looked at me like I was insane and walked away without a word. I mean, I did just get up off of the ground. I may or may not have had grass and dirt clinging to my ass. HIS LOSS. Strike one.  
Saw a dude rocking a heavy “bike messenger” look with big ole plugs. I cringed thinking about what those must smell like in this heat. Nevertheless, I approached him after he had freshly relieved himself and asked him if he would like to make out with me. He told me he had a girlfriend and asked me to get away from him. Damn. Strike two
After that, I tried chatting up a few girls, a guy…all who looked at me like it was a crazy person. I mean, my lips were pretty purple at this point…as well as my teeth. I had dirt and grass on my butt. I later found a leaf in my hair. My SPF 50 discount spray sunblock had made all my makeup gradually slide off my face… I get it. In a sea of Levi’s models I looked pretty fucking beat. I gave up on drunk make-outs. Time to stuff my face in other ways.
After being resoundingly rejected, I got some more wine. I went back to the jerky cart. Delicious, delicious free jerky. Also at about this time, night had fallen and things were getting quite fuzzy. I hadn’t eaten, outside of the jerky. In fact, I’m pretty sure the jerky people asked me to not come back. Beirut were about to go on. I got a fresh wine and joined the crowd. I remember spilling a lot of drink down my arm. Don’t worry, I licked it off like a champ. Those babies were $7 bucks a piece. I remember dancing with some little kids. Why are there little kids here? I remember being in the cab home. I remember hitting my bed with my clothes still on. I remember my dog eating a bag of pilfered jerky out of my purse as I lost consciousness. 
Day three: Hair of the Dog
I woke up feeling not great. I didn’t eat and I most certainly didn’t drink enough water. My legs and arms were itchy and covered in bumps. Right. You know, because of the nap I took with no blanket in the shitty grass. It’s time to go back to the festival, and I really did not want to fucking go. I forced myself up and ran a brush though my hair. That’s when I remembered that I got a haircut. Good lord.  
Being at this festival on day three is like your last day in Vegas or Disneyland. Everything is way too bright, way too fucking loud and you kind of just want it to hurry up and be done with already. That’s where I was at. Time for drink #1. I felt like a grizzled zombie dragging my sun-baked corpse though a sea of vacuous, shiny, happy people. This was the sold-out day, therefore the most crowded. It actually felt like a real festival. The other days were pretty mellow. Time for drink two and three. I need this to be way less annoying.  

Helio Sequence took the stage with their non-offensive radio-friendly hits. I sat and watched as girls repeatedly bent over way too far, flashing their asses while playing corn hole. This is gross. I feel gross. About then Danny Brown was setting up and blasting bass beats. Some lady in Birkenstocks said some shit about “ear drum damage”. Really Portland? How uncool can you be?
This show was the line of coke that this stodgy festival needed. Finally. Some music that was more upbeat than a heart monitor blip of someone in a coma. Totally different than any other act scheduled. Never fear! There’s nothing white people like more than safe and approachable hip-hop. That being said, this was also the most motionless rap show I have ever seen. I mean, some people were jamming. I saw a girl twerking with kombucha in her hand…which may have arguably been the whitest thing that has ever happened. At least finally, I smelled some pot. Thus far, this event has been super square. At least this act was causing some girls to take off their glasses and shake out their hair for a bit.
I went to head off and drink some more. People were already lining up for Modest Mouse, the headliners, and they weren’t due on for an hour. I’ve been a fan of theirs since way back in the beginning, and have never seen them live. That in and of itself is weird considering how often they have played over the years and also that I live in Portland where members of the band call home. It was going to be very crowded. My anxiety was starting to ramp up. I wonder if they’ll let me double-fist drinks? Turns out, on the last day and in the last hours of a long festival no one gives a shit about what you do.   
I decided I should probably eat something. All of the food truck lines at this point were insane. Time was not going to allow me to get a burrito and shove it in my mouth before the show. I left the festival, ran across the street to a corner store. I got a Mike’s Harder Lemonade tall-can and a bag of Cheetos. I squatted down against the building and quickly consumed both. A guy sidled up to me to make small-talk. I ended up sharing both with him. I ran back to the gates.
I pressed in to the sea of people. Just like all of the previous acts, Modest Mouse went on precisely on time. I couldn’t really see over everyone’s heads, but they sounded great. The second song they played was “Dark Center of the Universe” off of The moon & Antartica. It totally brought me back to my twenties, listening to that album and having mediocre sex with my emo-haired boyfriend. A group of 5 very smelly people forced and wedged their way in front of me. The girl of the group picked up all of her sweaty hair, in her hands whipping me in the face with it. She pulled it up into a shitty top-bun so that it fanned out a foot over her head, further blocking any hope of a view and began jumping up and down while stepping on my feet. At this point, I was fucking out of here. Done. I was drunk enough to physically grab her by that rat’s nest on top of her head and take her to the ground. Instead, I made the long, shuffling trek out of the crowd. I stood by the exit and listened to two more songs. Say what you will about Modest Mouse, but they have been around so long because they are a good fucking band. Or were. I don’t know anymore. I’m old. Goodbye MFNW 2015. Smell ya later. 

The Curious Case of Bobby Buckets

14 Nov

Life’s reset button

I’ve always had a difficult time with change. Such a difficult time that even the smallest decisions like getting a haircut will send me into anxiety for weeks. Due to this unfortunate personality flaw, I’ll tend to maroon myself in things that probably needed to change a long time ago. This goes for jobs, relationships, habits, and so on. A little over six months ago, I had what I considered a comfortable life. I wasn’t happy, but I would do nothing to change any aspect of what surrounded me. I was going on the seventh year of a rocky relationship, entering the 18th year of a career that was completely unsatisfying, and living my 3rd year in an apartment that I hated with an inconvenient location. When I look back on it now, there were many simple things that I could have done to make things better for myself. I didn’t see any of it at the time. It wouldn’t matter, because in the span of one week every aspect of my life changed. Life pulled the fucking rug out from under me and I could no longer unhappily sleepwalk through my existance.

It was a chain reaction, beginning with my relationship being destroyed. It had come out that he had cheated, and he no longer wanted to be my partner. I was devastated. I didn’t want to believe that he had given up on us after so many years together. I spent a lot of time not accepting it, and thinking that he would change his mind. This was the worst thing I could have put myself through, and it nearly destroyed me. He was my whole world, and now it was gone. I couldn’t function on any level. I stopped eating and dropped down to 98 pounds. I didn’t sleep. All I could do was blame myself and wallow in my own self-loathing. This state I was in led to the next phase of my life falling apart.

During this horrific breakup, I was on year 3 of a very high-stress job. I had been recently promoted, and the expectations and responsibilities were extreme. When the break up happened, I let the higher-ups know that I was going through personal hardship and I would try my best to not let it affect my work performance. They were sympathetic for about a week. They wouldn’t allow me to take any vacation time or leave, as it was a peak time for us and the business simply couldn’t run in my absence. They began to lose patience with me after I waasn’t back to my old self quickly enough. My work quality was slipping and I was distracted. I didn’t look good due to the weight loss and lack of sleep, and my co-workers and the people who worked for me were visibly uncomfortable to be around me. I was making mistakes, and I knew that it would be only a matter of time that I would be terminated. I’ve never been fired from a job in my life. Work has always been the most important thing to me, and I have built an excellent resume and refrences. I did not want a black mark on my career. I made the choice to quit without anything else lined up. Something I have never done before in my life. Hands-down the riskiest move I’ve ever done. It was the only option at the time, and I knew it. When I took my store keys and handed them in, the fear of the unknown was overwhelming. Underneath that, complete relief. I realized at that moment how much I hated working there. Truly hated it, and it consumed 45-50 hours a week of my time. The thousands of things and the hoards of people I was responsible for suddenly werent my fucking problem any more. What a wonderful relief.

The scramble to find work was immediate. Because I electively chose to leave my job, I couldn’t draw unemployment. I got paid out my last checks with that fucking vacation time they wouldn’t let me take, so that bought me a little time. All this time, I was still living in our small apartment with my now x that already had a girlfriend. He wanted me out. I needed to start working again. Through mutual friends, I found out a guy I knew owned a coffee shop/bar and might be needing someone. At different points in my life, I had been a barista and bartended. After some networking, I was hired. I was officially unemployed for exactly 52 hours. I would be brought on part-time, and at minumum wage. Obviously, not enough to live on but it would be some income coming in until I found another job in my usual carreer. I thanked my friend for helping me out, and promised to be the best damned worker he’d ever had.

There I was, 35 years old. Single, working in a coffee shop, essentially homeless. Definitely not how I envisioned my life at that point. Some days, I felt like a fucking loser. Others I tried to tell myself that I should enjoy the liberation of having no adult responsibilities. One of my customers offered me a room to rent in his house. I moved in, and my x and I stopped living together. That was both necessary and sad. The final nail in the coffin of our relationship. Although I felt like a personal failure, I honestly liked the job. It had been so long since I had worked with zero responsiblilty I had fogotten what it was like. My mind was completely clear while I was there, and I actually smiled while working. Not that fake corporate smile you learn to plaster on your face from years of conditioning. I could wear beat up sneakers to work. That alone was a blessing. I was used to living in staunch corporate dress which included 9 hours in high heels. I liked the customers, and was happy to see them. Even more wonderful, they were happy to see me. In my last career, I was upper management so any person I had to deal with was usually very upset and I would need to find a way to appease them which at that point was near impossible. I could play whatever music I wanted, and put whatever I wanted on the television. It was like an adult fantasy camp. I knew it couldn’t last. I’d have to make some actual money in order to put an actual roof over my head. Thats when I started tracking what I made at the new gig. With my minimum wage and tips, I nearly made as much as I was making in my last career. After taxes, insurance, and other bullshit taken out of my checks…shit. It wasnt quite the same, but it was damn close. That’s when I had to come to terms with the fact that I had been slaving away for the last 18 years, getting my fucking ass handed to me, killing myself with stress and I never had to. I had convinced myself that I should stay with that career because I had built a certain resume that afforded me a decent salary and I would be crazy to leave and go with something else. Now I could work less hours, with no stress and make almost the same amount of money. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I was sick with the thought of devoting my late teens, twenties, and early thirties to a soul-crushing carreer for no fucking reason and with no yeild. Life’s reset button forced me into leaving a career I hated, and showed me there could be something else. Better late than never, I suppose.

The black cat cafe

The cafe itself is weird. It sits on the head of Alberta street, which is a “destination” area for tourists. It has a long history of being a shady place for neighborhood folks to buy and sell drugs and for underage kids to get drunk. By the time I was hired, the business had been bought out and was in the process of re-branding into something else. The building had been there for so long and had been such a notorious institution in the neighborhood, the change-over was difficult. Many of the old regulars stopped coming in as an act of protest. Those that still came in still called it by the old name of “The Black Cat” and refused to aknowledge that it has a new name and was under new ownership. My first weeks working there nearly every customer that came in would ask those same qusetions in hostile tones:

“This isn’t the Black Cat any more?”

“Why did it change?”

“It sucks here now. Why would I come here?”

“Do you guys still sell cigaretttes?”

The neighborhood was resistant to accept any change, and the purchasing of the Black Cat pissed a lot of folks off. I didn’t mind feilding the angry crust punks’ questions. Still better than any one person I had to deal with in my old carrer. I would still get the occasional shady dude who would breeze past me with a backpack on heading straight to the back patio just to dart out again once realizing that either his dealer or his clientele is no longer posted up there. Some of the old customers continued to come in. Despite the name change and the lack of cigarettes, the place was mostly the same. The food menu remained, the coffee got better, and we still served the cheapest booze and beer on the street. I started to get attatched to the place, and the regulars that frequent it. I would notice if I didn’t see someone come in for a few days, and worry about them. I became the only full time employee, and essentially the manager as there are just some things you cant turn off even if you want to.

 

The way it was

IMG_0286-0

 

 

Bobby Buckets

It was a slow afternoon. I was working the mid shift, and I hadn’t seen a customer in at least an hour. That was typical in those days. Back then all of our business would be in the morning, then stagnate in the afternoons. I would keep busy. There was always something to clean or organize. Shit, just getting to pick my own music to listen to while I was working was still such a treat for me I could care less how slow the time was going. My shifts were 5 hours long. I was used to working 9-12. Total fantasy camp. My friend Kyle came in to hang out and chat with me. He did that often, as he lived 3 or 4 blocks up from the cafe and was always a welcome distration for me on those slow afternoons. He and I were alone in the cafe for about an hour before the next customers walked in.

A woman in her 40’s came to the counter accompanied by a guy that looked like he was in his early 20’s. They both ordered screwdrivers. I asked to see the guy’s id. He scoffed at me and started copping an attitude. He let me know that he used to work here, and the fact that I didn’t know that is rediculous. I told him that I’d never seen him before, therefore I would need to check his id. He finally gave it to me. I poured their drinks. He asked me those usual “why isn’t this the Black Cat any more” questions. I patiently answered them. I also patiently listened to how much he hated that it’s under new ownership and how badass the place used to be when he worked there. Former employees were always the worst to deal with by far. They have a weird sense of entitlement over the place, like they own it in some sense and almost always cause large amounts of problems when they decide to visit. The woman that was with him quietly hung back as he was going off on his tngent, smiling at me apologetically. She eventually cut him off and urged him on to the back patio.

By that time a few more customers had trickled in. All were regulars that I recognized, there to get a few cheap tall cans after clocking off from work. Kyle was still there hanging out. I had about 2 hours left in my shift. The uppity kid from the patio came in and ordered another round for himself and his companion. He asked me to make them “extra strong” and he’d “tip me well” wink wink nudge nudge. I told him I pour all drinks the same. He got pissy and said that he would tip me double. I again told him that I pour all drinks the exact same. He again expresed that he wanted his drink to taste “strong”. I said I could put in less orange juice, if thats what he wanted. He agreed. I poured the drinks and he went outside.

After about a half hour, the woman and the kid appeared at the counter, half-drunk drinks in hand. She starts chatting with me about the music I have playing. She is tall and blonde, in a fashionable coat and beyond pleasant. I can’t help but wonder what her relationship is to the much younger, and much shittier kid she’s hanging out with. She asks me if I wouldn’t mind putting a song on that she’s really been wanting to hear. Normally I wouldnt do something like that, but the cafe was slow and I couldnt’ think of any good reason to tell her no. I found the song and played it. It was some blues song from the 60’s. She sat and sang along, eyes closed and swaying to the beat. The kid and Kyle began chatting. We discovered that his name was Bobby, he had just moved back to portland after a brief stint in New York, and he was a homosexual. These were the three things he kept telling kyle over and over. It was also clear he was drunk. Way drunker than a cocktail and a half should make a person. Kyle has a way of engaging people, and kept trying to entice a conversation out of Bobby. He was stuck on that skipping record of the drunk where they just keep repating the same things over and over with more and more urgent tones. The blonde’s song ended. I put my playlist back on. They finished their drinks.

The blonde lady began to put her coat back on and was gesturing for boby to leave with her. He started to get up out of his bar seat and then snapped to attention. “I want to hear a song now. She got to hear one, now I want one.” I asked him what he’d like to hear. He took a long time deciding, and I just wanted him to leave. He was drunk, and getting louder and more difficult. He finally blurted out a song. I bent over the house ipad, busyng myself with try to find this song and artist I’ve never heard of on yotube. As I was still searching, I heard a loud crash. I turn around and see Bobby standing up on top of the bar, staring right at me. He had chucked his empty cocktail glass at the wall of liquor bottles. Thankfully, nothing broke. Not even the empty bucket glass now spinning on the ground.

Get off the counter.

The blonde and Kyle both stared at Bobby, frozen with mouths hanging open.  He jumped down behind the bar with me.  He swayed back and forth, looking dead in my eyes.

I used to work here.  I’m from New York.

I told him to get out from behind the counter.  The blonde grabbed his arm and yanked him hard out from around the counter.  She said “Bobby, I thought we were going to have a nice day together but I guess we aren’t now.  That’s a shame because I was having a really nice time with these nice folks.  Now we have to go because you did a bad thing.  you understand?’

Bobby looked at his feet in a moment of shame.  Again she told him that they had to go.  She apologized to me, and said they would be leaving.  She pulled on his arm and he went completely rag doll-limp and fell to the ground.  He remained lying on the floor of the cafe, spread out like a gingerbread man and refusing to get up.  He then emitted a loud scream, mouth hanging wide open with eyes staring straight up at the ceiling.  The customers in the cafe looked on.  I told the blonde that he had to go or I’d call the police.  She got him up off the floor.  I let him know he was 86’d, and no longer allowed in this establishment. At this point he appeared to suddenly have a very difficult time walking.  She had to help him to the door and they both exited and lumbered on down Alberta, arm-in-arm.

Kyle and I both looked at each other in a general “what the fuck was that” kind of moment.  The regulars talked amongst themselves and discussed what the hell must have been wrong with that guy.  I had only seved him two drinks.  Why was he so fucked up?  I could only guess one of three scenarios:  a)  He was really drunk when he got there and I didn’t notice b)  He drank his friend’s drinks as well as his when I wasn’t looking c)  He was on drugs.  Pobabaly all three.

Bout ten minutes later, he was back.  He appeared in the doorway, without his friend and swaing back and forth with that drunk-eyed expression.  I want my bag.

His friend had clearly ditched him.  I did not blame her.  He was back, looking for some mysterious bag he supposedly had when he came in there that contained his cell phone.  I did not remember him having a bag when he came in.  I helped him look all over the cafe and the patio.  He was unable to describe to me what this bag looked like, so I had no idea what he was looking for.  There was no abandoned bag.  He roamed around in circles and then gradually wandered out.

Ten minutes later, he was back. Bitch, stop hiding my bag. I’m from New York.
You’re going to have to leave. Your bag isn’t here. I didn’t even see you come in with one. You have to leave. If you come in again, I will call the police. Got it?
I used to work here. I’m from New York. Fuck you.

Get. Out.

He swayed defiantly, looking at me for more than a few minutes. A few of the regulars got up out of their seats to back me up, in case this dude was going to try anything. He eventually turned around and left.

Thirty minutes later, I was told by a customer coming in the cafe that Bobby Buckets was sleeping on the sidewalk outside of the cafe. And by sleeping, they meant passed the fuck out. Customers continued to come in, and I worked in the cafe alone leaving me unable to go and access the situation outside. Kyle went out to check it out for me. Sure enough, there he was right outside the building. He was passed out, face up and right on the sidewalk. He looked like he literally fell backwards onto the pavement, and it was under no mistake that he was fucked up.

Oregon has really strict laws when it comes to booze. Much different than when I poured liquor in California. For starts, anyone serving alcohol has to take an educational course and hold a permit and register with the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission). This education course includes everything from the legalities in which a bartender or establishment can be held to, how to identify and handle a visibly intoxicated person, how to check and identify fake ID cards, to the rules and regulations of personal conduct while serving alcohol to customers. The course is followed by a test, and you must pass with a certain percentage to get a license. You may not work as a bartender without one. When I started pouring booze in this state, I was told by friends that the OLCC does not fuck around. If they catch you violating any policy whatsoever, they could not only take your permit but will personally fine you. That means not only will you need to find another career, you’d better find one quick because now you’re heading towards bankruptcy. I was new to dealing with the OLCC, and was mindful of the horror stories that people had told me. This made me very concerned that I had a guy passed out in the front of the bar I was working at. This also made me afraid to call the cops. What if they took my license for over-serving? This was my only means for the moment. If they took my license, I could never do this type of work again and I had just started in this town. Now I know that I had nothing to be afraid of. I should have called the cops immediately. I didn’t know that then. This fear of the OLCC is the reason why everything happened the way it did. I asked Kyle to try and get him up off the ground and away from the building. I continued to help customers.

After a long while, Kyle returned. He said that he was able to wake him up and offered him a ride home to his house, wherever it was. He said he refused, and ended up running off down the street. Good. Gone.

Business continued on. A regular came in and told me that there was a guy on the side of the building who had ripped a tree branch down and was hitting cars with it.
No.

Kyle and 3 regulars went out to look as I helplessly stood behind the counter serving the line of waiting customers. What the fuck was going on outside? Literally nothing I could do. I sweated nervously, waiting for Kyle to come back in and tell me what was going on. Eventually, the group came back in. I was told the following happened:

He ripped our drainage pipe off the side of the building and was stabbing parked cars with it like a medieval jouster

He pulled an 8ft long tree branch down, leaves and all and was wielding it over his head like a fucked up flag as he was marching in the street screaming “bitch has my bag” and occasionally bringing it down on car hoods.

Laying down in the street, arms and legs spread akimbo while emitting various squeals and guttural noises.

Kyle and the regulars explained to me that several times they explained to him that if he just left this area and went somewhere else, there would be no trouble and everything would be fine. He refused. He had waged war upon me and the surrounding area, as I had stolen his bag. The gang assured him that I, in fact, did not have said bag and he needed to just go away. At one point, the argument between my regular (I’ll call “Eric”) became heated and Bobby spit in his face. Eric clocked him, and amazingly Bobby did not go down. After that, they came in to report what had happened. Bobby remained outside, dragging the branch through the street.

This is when the cops definitely should have been called. They should have been called the minute this fool took a booze-snooze on the concrete mattress. I know that now. Back then, I didn’t know that the cops side with the drinking establishments in situations such as these. I also worked for a privately-owned business. One of which where I personally knew the owners, and who were friends of mine. I didn’t want to bring any unnecessary problems, fines, or black marks onto their establishment. What if I got their liquor license taken away? What then? I also don’t trust cops in general, and prefer not to deal with them at all costs. Growing up in Fresno you learn that cops are not your friends, they don’t take your side, and dealing with them will almost always cost you a lot of money and even sometimes your freedom. I continued to try to control the situation. If this dude would just fucking leave, there would be no problem.

Customers came in. I had to serve them. Kyle went to see what was going on now. Bobby had abandoned the branch in the middle of the road, and snapped the windshield wipers off 3 of the parked cars and was throwing them like footballs at the side of the building. I dropped what I was doing and went outside.

I was fucking pissed. I ran up to him and started yelling.

What the fuck are you doing?

Give. Me. My. Bag.

You think if I had your bag, I wouldn’t just fucking give it to you so you’d leave? I don’t have it. It’s not here. You left it somewhere else. You need to leave. I’m going to call the cops. You will be arrested. You don’t want to go to jail. All you have to do is leave.

I’m not leaving without my bag.

What’s in this bag that’s worth more than going to jail?

My phone.

Buy a new one. You’ve vandalized property. At this point, a phone will cost far less than what you’ll be facing. Just leave. Do it. I’m giving you a chance of a lifetime.

By this point the cafe regulars had come to join me outside. They told him to go as well. He still stood there, defiant. He started arguing Eric again. It looked like it was going to turn into a brawl.

What happened next occurred so quickly, it’s almost hard to describe. Bobby ran from the side of the building to the front, which is on a very busy street lined with popular shops and restaurants. We have a very heavy, blackboard sandwich sign that sits on the sidewalk. Somehow, this scrawny kid picked it up and flung it in a huge arc right into the street. A speeding sedan plied the brakes, laying smoking rubber to a keep it from coming down on their hood and windshield. The car behind it had to swerve into the oncoming lane to avoid the suddenly stopped car. Miraculously, no one was hurt. Everyone stood, stunned. I needed to get to a phone and call the cops. I drug the sign out of the road so the cars would stop piling up. I ran inside to get my cell phone. We had a house phone, but it was an ancient piece of shit that barely worked and you couldn’t hear much more than static out of. Plus, my phone was closer. I ran around the bar and snatched it up.

Incredulously, two customers were queued up at the register waiting to be served. As I ran behind the bar, they tried to shout their order at me. I ignored them, and ran outside. One of my regulars was already on his cell with the cops. I called one of my owners. Bobby was screaming and yelling, flailing his arms and legs around like he was having a mental break in front of the store. My owner picked up. I shouted into the phone as best I could over the phone what was happening over the chaos. He said he was coming.

Bobby stopped flailing and suddenly darted in full sprint into the store. I pushed everyone out of the way and followed him in. He’d sprinted to the back patio. I grabbed the first weapon-like object I could find: a broom. I chased him in a circle off the patio and back into the store. He suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and faced me. Eric was next to me.

I don’t like you. You are mean, and you wear way too much makeup.

He reached over and grabbed a bottle of French’s yellow mustard from the nearby counter. I knew what was going to happen. I yelled no and threw my hand up in defense. Eric did not foresee, unfortunately. Bobby began squirting the mustard. First, all over Eric. In his face, his hair. Eric fell away, trying to wipe mustard out of his eyes. Bobby then began squirting the windows, the walls, the floor…. I ran at him to get it away from him. He emptied the rest of the bottle down onto my face and hair, then chucked the it down as hard and fast as he could onto my cheekbone and nose. My eyes instantly watered up and I couldn’t see. I staggered, trying to recover. By the time I could see again, the cops were there and arresting him. I wiped off my face with a bar towel and went outside.

The minute the cops touched him, bobby began to scream and wail at the top of his lungs. He didn’t stop. To say it was a spectacle would be an understatement. By this time, everyone from those stores and restaurants had come out and were lining the street to watch the show. Two cops and an OLCC representative wanted to interview me. I was completely freaked out. They asked me what happened. I told them everything from the moment he first walked in. They asked me several times how many drinks I served him. I told them, and also mentioned that he had paid with a debit card, and could show them the receipt as proof that he was only served two drinks. They asked to see it as well as my ID and liquor license. I took them inside and provided it for them. They looked at those as well as the mustard mess all over the inside of the building. My hair was matted against the side of my cheek, coated and reeking of mustard. I wanted to puke. Bobby was still screaming outside, bent over the cop car hood with his hands handcuffed behind his back. They took my information and thanked me for calling them. That was it.

I stood outside and watched as bobby decided to put a nail in his coffin by suddenly spazzing out and resisting arrest as the cops tried to guide him into the cop car. The largest, most terrifying wall of a man eased himself out of one of the back up cars and slowly walked over to Bobby that was flailing like a fish. With one beefy arm, he drug bobby up like a rag doll and popped him in the car. Bobby fell in silent amazement as the car door slammed. He began beating his head on the window in a rhythmic pattern. His current charges now included vandalism, assault (because of the spitting), public intoxication, trespassing (as I was later to find out, he had along ago been 86’d from this establishment) as well as resisting arrest. All he had to do was walk away. Hell, Kyle even offered to give him a ride home.   You want to feel sorry for someone like that.  Someone with a clear problem with either substace abuse, mental illnss or perhaps both.  You want to, but you just cant.  I had given him so many chances to avoid this outcome. The cops drove off. The owner showed up as I was mopping the mustard off of the windows. Eric was in the bathroom rinsing his hair and beard in the sink. I started to try and tell him what happened.

After

It turns out bobby is a notorious character in these parts, and had been 86’d at most establishments for similar erratic behavior. Apparently, he’s a deeply disturbed individual with a drug habit. That may be why he was so reluctant to take off without his bag that day. I also found out his nickname: Bobby Buckets. That wasn’t his real name, but what everyone called him. Not sure why. No one could say. At the Black Cat alone, he was 86’d previously for spazzing out, becoming violent, stealing, etc. Also, bizarre behavior such as pulling the bus tub down off of the counter and squatting in it while meowing like a cat. I felt like such a jackass for not just calling the cops when shit started to go south that day. Valuable lesson learned.

The cops and the OLCC came by two more times to interview me after the incident. They informed me that all charges were going to be pressed that were up against him. All of the people who’s wipers got snapped off of their cars were suing for property damage. My owner chose not to press any charges, as well as myself. Eric declined to press assault charges, as he had pending warrants and didn’t want anything to do with talking to the cops. Kyle and I were both subpoenaed to testify in court.

No one took a video of anything that happened. It all happened so fast and everything was so dramatic, I suppose no one thought to. I know I didn’t. No record of anything that happened….save one pic. Kyle got one glorious pic of bobby passed out on the sidewalk. The day after it all happened, he posted this to my Facebook wall:

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That night, I took the picture he sent me and decided to memorialize bobby in the proper way. I give you the Black Cat employee of the month:

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Bagby Hot Springs

1 Dec

There are many stark contrasts between living in Portland vs living in Fresno.  That, in and of itself could be its own essay. For this story, I’ll focus on just one of these differences.  Portland is surrounded by beautiful nature, and for the most part those that live here make efforts to get out and enjoy it.  Especially true in the summer months.  After being here for over 3 years now, I have discovered that the very best thing you can possibly do with a summer day is organize a group of friends and head to the river.  Any of them.  Friends and acquaintances are eager to join in, especially if you have a car to get there.  When I lived in Fresno, I rarely heard of friends heading out to do outdoorsy things.  The summers were unbearably hot, spring lasted about 5 days, and everyone hibernated for the winter.  Summer days in Fresno were best spent driving the two + hours to the gorgeous California coast.  If not that, then you could drag yourself to the mall or the movie theatre and enjoy some free air conditioning.  After moving to Portland, I slowly adjusted to the idea of nature activities.  Friends did them rain, shine, summer or dead of winter.  Certain activities are on a “must do ” list if you live here, such as Multnomah Falls, The Gorge, a summer day spent at the Bluffs, floating down the Sandy river, etc.  I’ve been slowly checking these off my bucket list as time allows.  Each one of these attractions have lived up to the hype and have been beautiful and memorable.  This story is about the one thing that everyone said I must do, that turned out to be the most bizarre and uncomfortable experiences of my life.  How can nature possibly be uncomfortable?  Read on.

Most of my friends who live here have mentioned going to the hot springs.  It was apparently a quick day trip from Portland, and was a relaxing and rejuvenating thing to do with friends.  I had never been to a natural hot springs before. I’ve never seen one, much less heard of anyone who went to one regularly.  It sounded really nice.  It also sounded like getting to Bagby Hot springs was relatively easy and not too far away.  One night I was out with a group of friends at a bar, having a few cocktails.  It was about last call, and a friend and his boyfriend left to go to the hot springs at 2 am to round out their night.  Especially in the light of that I figured it was probably right off the freeway and very easily accessible.  Even though a lot of my friends have been/go frequently no one really had anything to say about it except to try not to at night because the scene gets a little “nude” after dark.  I also heard that the water is piped into tubs for bathing, rather than it just being an open body of water.  I didn’t really know what that meant, but whatever.  still sounded interesting.

Ross and I had the day off, which was rare.  It was a surprisingly sunny November Sunday.  One in which a coat isn’t necessary.  That alone is a miracle.  We took our time around the house, went to brunch on a Groupon, then decided to finally do Bagby.  It was a gorgeous day, probably the last one we’d see in at least 6 months.   The weather was that magical mix of not too cold, yet crisp enough that a hot spring would be perfect.  Well, from what I could guess.  I didn’t really know how warm the spring would actually be.  They call it a hot spring, not a warm spring so I guessed it would be warm enough to hang out in.  We brought Ham, not really putting in any thought about weather or not dogs were necessarily “allowed”.  Considering the warnings of what goes on there after dark, I assumed it was an unmonitored area and bringing a dog would be completely okay.  Leaving her at home on a day such as this while we were embarking on outdoors activities seemed like dog abuse anyway.

I hate the tradition of “Portland brunch”, but I like the liquid part
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The directions to Bagby are vague.  This is pulled from the official website:

Bagby Hot Springs is located about 45 minutes South East of Estacada, Oregon. After the beautiful drive up the Clackamas River Basin on Hwy 224, you turn South and follow the Collawash River. There is a parking lot and campground located at the trailhead bearing the name “Bagby Trailhead”. The campground is to the left when entering the parking lot and is commonly known as “Nohorn Campground”. The only services at the trailhead are two outhouses.
“Follow the river”.  It doesn’t say for how long.  In fact, it makes it seem like its right off the 224.  Sounds simple enough.  We left Portland at about 2:30pm.  We hit Estacada at about 3:30.  If the town Estacada sounds familiar to you, its because I have a previous post from this town called “The greatest bar EVER”.  Sadly, the Safari Club has since shut its doors.    We drove by its former shell and looked at its current state.  Across the road there was a second-hand store that was open.  Since the sun was still championing on and not a cloud in site, we reasoned we had time to stop in.  30 minutes of picking though the owner’s impressive and bizarre collection of crap and were back on the road, turning South to follow the river.

This is the picture of the hot springs taken from the website. Looks magical.
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Had we known, we would have surely purchased a map.  A good, old fashioned, GPS doesn’t disappear, paper map made by Cartologists.  I had brought up directions on my phone, and “following the river” was for miles.  Miles upon miles.  There were also turns.  Ones definitely NOT mentioned on the website.  As we travelled along the river, I lost phone service.  I had the route plotted on the virtual map on my screen, but lost the dot to know where we were, precisely.  Also, I couldn’t zoom in to see details or markers.  When I did, the phone glitched.  We just kept driving, all the while feeling like we’d passed it.  How much farther?  When do we start looking for these turns?  Before I had a smart phone, I would always use paper maps, and I had this overwhelming sense of their timeless value at that moment.  After a few wrong turns, guessing where to go based on where other cars were going, and dumb luck we eventually approached a 8×10 wooden sign pointing to the parking lot of the camp.

Ham was absolutely dying to get out of that car.  The sun was setting.  There were a lot of other cars there, as well as a hand full of people getting out of their cars at the same time.  It was oddly comforting to see that this many other people found it completely reasonable to go to the hot springs at 5 pm on a Sunday.  With the sun slipping down, however I couldn’t help but look around at these people and wonder if in a few short minutes I’d be forced to see them naked.  We got out our supply bag that consisted of bathing suits, towels, bottled water, wine (important), and poop bags (dog, not human-related).  We did not have a flashlight.  In our defense, we thought this would be day trip.

From the parking lot to the campsite is about a 2 mile hike.  I know this now.  At the time. I had no idea.  No one mentioned the hike.  As we walked down the trail the sun slipped further and further down behind the tree line of the forest.  It was getting dark.  There was no getting around it.  There was no turning round at this point.  We had come so far.  We travelled on, Ham leading us with no flashlight.  Two miles isn’t really that far.  I’ve easily walked that running errands around town in no time.  There’s a sort of illusion in regards to time.  The way to something always seems longer than the way back.  This is especially true if you have no idea when or where your end point is.  It could be in 2 yards, or two more miles.  There were no markers or indications.  Occasional groups of people passed by going the opposite direction.  Everything about this seemed so strange and completely out of my character.  One of those situations where you are fully aware that this is a bad idea, but things are already too far set in motion.  The sun finally set, and we were in darkness.  Thankfully, Ross had previously put a flashlight App on his phone. Mine was useless.  The faint glow of the iphone screen did nothing.     We used the app for the last leg of our hike.  The scope of the light coming from the phone yeilded a small spotlight to guide us.  I tripped and stumbled along on the uneven ground.  We passed two guys going the opposite way, and out of desperation I asked them how much farther.  They said it was right over this hill.  Thank fucking god.

The campsite had an official park sign, and a low wood fence lining it.  There were no lights provided.  Not only that, after shining our tiny pin light around the area it was evident that no one else had any light source either.  Not one person.  No flashlight, no lantern, not shit.  we entered though the opening in the fence, and walked toward the lone structure standing in the darkness.  As we approached, I was taken aback with how many people were here.  There were 50, if not more.  Again, Not one of them with a light, all of them wandering around in complete darkness in the middle of a dense forest.

My eyes might as well had been closed for this entire experience.  That’s exactly how much visibility I had.  Ross led the way with the phone light, I stumbled and tripped along behind him, holding on to the back of his sweatshirt in one hand and Ham’s leash in the other.  For how many fucking people there were, it was oddly quiet.  People were murmuring in hushed tones, or passing by us in complete silence.  We reached the main destination, which was 3 wooden steps that I nearly face-planted on leading up to a wooden shack.  There were people milling all about, and it was very confusing to make out what the hell was going on.  The shack had multiple doors that lead to individual rooms.  On the porch was a picnic table, with people sitting on it.  As we approached the first door, five people were leaving the room and told us we could have it because it was too small for them.  We had no idea what they meant, but we took the room.

The 12 x12 room was made entirely of wood, and was completely wet on all four walls and floor.  There was a long tub carved out of a tree trunk lining the wall, a narrow bench coming out of the opposite to sit on.  The door to the room was a swinging wooden one, saloon style.  The roof was open to the night sky.  We stood in the middle of this room, wondering what the hell we were supposed to do next.  The tub was empty.  There was a spout coming out of the wall made of bamboo aimed into the tub.  A small trickle of hot water was dribbling out.   We shined the light into the tub, and saw that someone had shoved a pink and black striped sock with a knot tied in the middle into a hole in the bottom that served as a drain.  We stood there, looking at this with question marks over our heads for a good 5 minutes trying to piece together what to do.  Surely we aren’t to wait for the tub to fill up from this trickle.  It would take all night at that rate, if not longer.  People kept opening our swinging door to see if our room was occupied.  it became clear that we lucked out on getting this room.  All those people sitting on that picnic bench were actually in line waiting for rooms, and we essentially cut without knowing.  Ross told me to stay with the room.  He was going to take the light and see what other people were doing as far as getting water into their tubs.

The room, in all its glory.
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The pipe system leading into the tub.
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I stood in darkness in the center of this room.  Ham was in complete distress.  Before too long, I realized that she felt wetness, saw a giant tub, and thought she was going to get a bath.  Ham hates baths.  She won’t enter the bathroom at home unless carried in.  She could not be calm, and kept trying to run under the gap of the swinging door.  I couldn’t see anything, now that the light was gone.  I kept feeling Ham pulling at the leash and her nails scraping against the wood.  It was cold.  Fuck that.  It was Oregon, in the winter, high altitude cold.  Ross came back to the room.  He said people were hauling water to their tubs with buckets, but the water source he saw everyone going to was ice cold.  We stood in silence for a few minutes, trying to decide what to do.  Ice cold water?  Fuck that bullshit.  I was cold, uncomfortable, and tired.  I was ready to just say fuck it and go home.  Ham was still in a frenzy, and could not be consoled.

A man swung open our door.  He asked if he could come in and show his daughter what our room looked like.  Without our consent, he came right on in, holding the hand of a terrified-looking teenage girl.  They stood in the center of our room in silence for a good 5 minutes.  They eventually left, still holding hands.  Right after them, another man came in asking us if we were getting any water in our tub.  We said that we weren’t and with the aid of our light, he set in to investigate.  At first I though maybe he was park maintenance, but soon I deduced that he was just a regular.  The guy determined that there was a clog in the piping system.  The way its supposed to work, is water flows freely into the tubs.  We came on an unlucky day where shit wasn’t working.  He said the other side of the shack was getting water, but not this one.  The regular left our room and went about investigating the plumbing system.  A group of kids threw open our door and asked if we were sticking around.  This shit was surreal.

The door.
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Two buckets were sitting outside our swinging door.  I touched one of them and felt that the plastic was warm.  They are getting hot water from somewhere.  I had ross feel it.  He left me in the room to go try and discover where we could get the hot water from.  I sat in the darkness again.  The ledge to sit on protruded from the wall about 4 inches.  I balanced one butt cheek on it and crouched on the wet wood.  Over the wall in one of the other mysterious cabins came the sounds of a man having sex.  Long, guttural moans with the occasional  oh yeah wafted into my room.  There was no sounds of any partner, so I’m only to assume he was enjoying himself solo.  Ham continued to try and run out of the room.

Ross returned with two buckets full of piping hot water.  After traipsing in the dark and getting lost, he found an open hot spring near the shack that people were dipping their buckets into and filling from.  He decided he was going to do this.  Carrying two 10 gallon buckets in either hand full of water up a hill is hard-ass labor.  He would have to do all the work, as I have scoliosis and have a difficult time carrying a sack of potatoes these days.  He was on a mission, however.  We came all this way.  I sat with the light on his phone in the room and waited.   I could finally have a look around.  There was graffiti on every inch of the walls.  That, combined with the cold and the wet made me feel like I was in a serial killer’s tool shed, awaiting my slaughter.  The sex man was crescendoing.  I decided to put on some music from the phone.

The walls, from what I could see.
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This is fun.
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With the light and music on in our room, people stopped coming in.  Ham was shivering and terrified.  I pulled out one of the towels we brought and wadded it up for her to lay on.  she ran to it gratefully and finally settled down a tiny bit.  Ross was making trip after trip with buckets of water, but the tub was slow to fill.  I shivered.  I pulled out the bottle of wine I brought and started chugging to keep warm.  Elliot Smith came on the playlist and I could hear someone a couple of rooms over singing along.  Between trips, Ross said there was a woman in her late 50’s walking around outside completely nude and smoking a joint.  I peeked out my door and indeed saw a nude figure wandering around, talking to strangers passing by.  It was 27 degrees.  Ross kept referring to her as “The shining” lady.  I asked if it was the lady coming out of the bathtub before or after Jack Nicholson  makes out with her.  He said “What do you think?”  After nearly an hour, the tub was a little over half full.  He was tired.  I said lets just get in.

dog abuse.
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We had brought our suits.  The thought of hauling freezing, wet garments with us for the two miles back to the car seemed unbearable.  we decided to just get in naked.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced “nude in the Oregon forest” cold before.  Ham’s towel she was laying on had soaked though from the moisture on the ground.  I wadded up my coat for her and she happily settled in on that.  I felt so bad for bringing her.

I got in the tub.  It was warm enough.  Almost too warm.  Its amazing how hot the water was.  We now realized why there was cold AND hot water.  You’re supposed to mix it.  Ross got dressed again and decided to go get more water to fill the tub.  I sat there, naked and pretty fucking vulnerable.  Anyone could push the door open.  Not that nudity here seemed to be a huge concern.  I’ve never been one of those “proud of my body” people.  I drew my knees up to my chest, watched the door, and chugged the wine.  There were little kids running around, families, naked women, sex dudes, and lord knows what else here all mixing it up with each other.  What kind of fucking place is this?  What if some fucking wierdo comes in this room right now and refuses to leave?  What if another creepy daddy/daughter duo wants to “tour my room”?  There is no reason in the world I should be involved in a scenario such as this.  I am not this person.  After 30 more minutes of filling and the door swinging open and shut the tub was a little more full and Ross finally got in.

I’m just going to say this and get it out of the way.  There was nothing sexy, romantic or comfortable about this experience.  This is not a sexy time, in any stretch of the imagination.  Thank goodness I was here with someone I have been with for years.  I would be absolutely mortified if I had come here on a date with someone.  In fact, I think if I had had this experience with someone I had even been dating as long as a year it would mark the end of the relationship.  The tub was narrow and long.  Long enough that we were able to lay in it on opposite ends and our feet didn’t touch.  The inside of the tub was rough and twigs and branches snarled out of the bottom surface making for a rather uncomfortable seat.  I also had the pleasure of the stranger’s sock smashed into my right butt cheek.  Lord knows where that sock has been, how long its been here or what organisms are growing within it.  Best not to think about it.  The water was NOT rejuvenating.  It stank of sulfur, and had a murky quality to it that left a film on your skin and stung in any cuts you may have.  I was afraid to rub my face with my wet hands.  Frankly, I was concerned about my various orifices being submerged in this liquid.  We tried to lay back and enjoy the night sky overhead.  My legs began to itch. The water was filled with unknown “floaties” that I couldn’t see but could feel. Something squishy passed through my fingers.  We looked at each other, and without so much as a word got out of the tub after a maximum of 5 minutes of soaking.

A picture to commemorate the first and very LAST time I will be nude in public.

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There are few things as cold as ” step out of the piping hot tub into 20-something degree weather wet and naked” cold.  We only had one dry towel now, so we had to share it.  I don’t think I’ve ever dressed that fast in my life.  My coat was completely soaked from being on the ground, but It was worth it for Ham to be comfortable.  I put that on, gathered our things and we left our room.  A couple was standing outside our door.  We told them they could have it, and the water was just put in.  Fucking gross, dude.  Communal stank water that people may or may not have just fucked in.   As we left, the crowd of people hanging out there seemed to double.  How and why?   And still not one person had a proper light.  We escaped this weird scene and began the long hike back to the car.

After about halfway into the walk back, the inevitable happened:  Ross’ phone died.  The light app as wellthe music playing to muffle out our neighbor’s sex-sounds really drained the battery.  We stood in complete darkness.  To the right was the sound of the river, above that we knew there was a cliff and a drop off down to it.  The trail was marked with an edging of rocks and sticks.  I’ve heard dogs can see in the dark…  our choices were a) allow ham to lead us in pitch blackness with the possibility of us wandering the wrong way off a cliff (not to mention tripping and falling) or b) crawling on our hands and knees for the next mile, using the rock and sticks on the edge of the trail as our guide.  We stood in silence.  I stooped down to test the crawling theory.  The sound of the river below was so loud at that moment, and all I could think of was tumbling down it to my death.  This is how we fucking die.  This is no fucking joke and we are fucked.

Moments before disaster struck.
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Before we could even speak to each other and begin to formulate our next move, off in the distance a blue LCD  light was bobbing in the trees.   It approached, and with it a group of 10 or so people quickly walking single-file down the trail in the direction of the parking lot.  Can we walk with you?   Our light died.  We followed this group that marched in silence.  We are so god dammed lucky.  As we neared the parking lot, we discovered that our entire group was made up of people who didn’t bring a flashlight/light source died that the leader with the LCD light had picked up along the trail.  That guy must have thought we were all a bunch of fucking idiots. We WERE a bunch of fucking idiots.  Who heads in to the deep woods after dark without a fucking light source?  Apparently everyone.

We got back to Portland at near 10pm.  Starving, stinky, cold, wet.  I’ve relayed this story to a few friends, and they are completely shocked by my experience..  Not one person had a negative story to share with me and all described everything as nothing short as “magical”.  For me, Bagby was about as magical as squatting nude in a trench in winter, while being forced to be intimate with strangers.  It will take a lot of convincing to give this another try. It was like everything I hate converged in one experience: Hippies, naked people, strangers having sex, dirt, cold, and blindness. I’m not sure who this experience if for, actually. Apparently the 50+ folks waiting in the freezing cold and darkness at all hours. I failed in getting a picture of The Shining lady for you guys. Apologies.

Y’all want to smoke a doobie?
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