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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.

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

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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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The Most Un-Traditional Xmas Eve

14 Nov

Prologue

If you happen to find yourself on Xmas eve, as an adult, without any family, nor a spouse and/or children such as myself your holiday may be a little non-traditional.  My holiday began to be less about family dinner and gifts the year after my mom died.  My family has always been small.  It was just me, my dad and my mom.  We were estranged from many of our extended family, for good reasons.  The bad thing about having such a small home is that you can find yourself losing it all so much easier.   Mom passed away in September of ’01.  I was 22 years old.  Clearly not a child anymore.  My father’s heart was permanently broken, and couldn’t bear to face the holidays any longer.  Rather than face both Thanksgiving and Christmas, he chose to leave for Reno on a gambling trip with a friend of his who was also without family.  He never asked me if I was okay with this, but I suppose I was.

Mom died in September of that year, and Thanksgiving was right around the corner.  I went to our usual gathering at my mom’s best friend’s house.  This group of people were not blood related to me, but I knew this group as family.  I had known them my entire life.  I called members of it “aunt” and “uncle”, “cousin”, etc.  I showed up for Thanksgiving dinner, like I always would with my boyfriend in tow.  It was awkward.  Mostly because I was awkward.  Also because no one knew what to say to me or how to act.  This is a normal reaction.  I don’t blame anyone for not knowing how to interact with me.  If I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t know either.  Most asked me how I was doing, and all wanted to share stories about my mom and how much she’d be missed.  It was too much for me.  To be in this very familiar setting I’ve known my entire childhood made her absence and my loss all the more obvious.  I felt strangled by everyone’s sympathy and the ghost of my mother clinging right behind me.  I pretended to take a phone call and left without a word.  It was all too much, too soon.

Soon after, Xmas rolled around.  Dad appeared in my doorway the first week of December and told me he would be out of town for the holiday.  He was near tears when he told me this, and I knew he was dealing with his own journey with grief, one I couldn’t possibly understand.  He went out of town every year after that for both Thanksgiving and Xmas until he died too.  I began my own traditions. My favorites are doing anything non-traditional like seeing a horror movie and chinese food with a friend.  Any time a boyfriend would talk me in to doing a traditional xmas with his family, it would nearly make me sick.  Of course its unavoidable, but personally I prefer to skip those holidays all together.

Xmas-Eve Pool Party

Ross is very much all about the traditional holiday.  He misses his family and home, and he especially feels it on those holidays in which one would normally be amongst both.  Through this relationship I have been forced to concede and celebrate these before blacklisted holidays.  I do so half-heartedly, but I do it nonetheless.  On this last Christmas, I would be cooking my usual “transplant dinner” on the afternoon of.  Every Christmas and Thanksgiving since I’ve lived in Portland, I cook a large and traditional dinner for all of us living here that are away from family to attend and enjoy.  I do it for everyone else, not because I particularly require it or enjoy the ritual.  I also do it for the challenge.  I love cooking and pushing myself to my very best culinary ability.  There’s also something really fucking satisfying about pulling off a gorgeous holiday feast that can feed 20 all by myself (or maybe thats years of domestic brainwashing talking).  Christmas eve, ross was depressed.  His family wanted us to come home for the holiday, but of course I couldn’t, being a retail manager.  We didn’t have a lot of extra money at this time, so we couldn’t afford a tree.  He was very sad about this.  I was personally relieved.  Not only am I incredibly allergic to xmas trees, I find the entire tradition strange and wasteful.  I really didn’t want to acquire one, vacuum up the needles, then have to dispose of it.

Ross was clearly in a funk, and I couldn’t help but have sympathy.  I can see how hard it must be to be away from your family on the holidays.  I wanted to cheer him up.  We didn’t have any money for a tree, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t be festive.  I spent $5 at Dollar tree and created a tree.

Push-pins, fishing line, box of ornaments.
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Of course it didn’t really cheer him up.  That shit took me FOREVER, though.  His parents had sent us gifts, and I positioned them under our “tree”.

It took quite a bit of convincing, but I finally talked him in to going out on Xmas Eve.  Portland is a town a lot of people move to, therefore many won’t be doing anything for Christmas day, so tons of people go out on the eve and drink.  I was excited to experience this.  There were actually quite a few events going on around town that sounded interesting and it was going to be hard to choose the right one.  I also had to pick something that Ross would even be in to joining.  Most of our friends that we’ve made since moving here are actually from Portland (rare) and have family activities to attend.  This means I would not only have to convince him to a) go out when he’s depressed  b) go out without the incentive of hanging out with our friends.   Challenging.  Finally, I saw it: Christmas Eve Pool Party.  It was perfect for me.  Completely non-holiday related.  no fucking Santa hats, no damned stockings, probably no Xmas tree.  Even better, a newly-acquired friend of ours was hosting the event.  After much convincing, he agreed to go.

It was free to get in, but you were supposed to wear bathing suits.  It was snowing in Portland at the time.  Also, when you move to the Pacific Northwest your body changes.  I achieved a new shade of pale that year.  I was literally as white as a glass of milk.  You also spend about 99% of your time here covered from neck to toe in usually many layers.  The thought of being in no more than a bathing suit is bizarre.  Still, I was determined to enjoy my non-traditional Christmas in the company of like-minded individuals for once.  This would be no depressing Christmas!  I refused to spend it crying in bed.  Not this year!  This year would be fun, silly, and hopefully drunk.  Ross was skeptical of the dress code.  He brought up a good point:  What if we show up and no one else is dressed up?  What if we go and we’re not having fun and want to go somewhere else?  he opted to wear normal clothes, but bring his trunks to change in to.  I was in a quandary.  How was I going to feel okay about being in a bathing suit?  I CERTAINLY wouldn’t be putting on a fucking bikini.  NO WAY.  I had recently purchased a size large, gold lame one-piece at a yard sale.  I decided that this would be my best option, as it wasn’t too clingy and provided a lot of coverage.  It was backless, though.  This means, I couldn’t wear a bra, reasonably.  I tried it on with one on, just to see.  I looked like I was doing Momma’s Family cosplay.  I opted for two sets of 5 band aids in a Red Hot Chili Pepper logo pattern.  That’ll have to do.  Now there was the issue with my legs.  They were so pale, they were see-thru.  I decided I needed to wear a pair of tights with my suit.  Trouble is, all of my hose had those shorts built in (women will know what I’m talking about).  None were sheer to the hip except a pair of flesh-toned patterned ones I got on clearance and never wore.  They were weird, but my only viable option.  I eyed myself in the mirror.  I knew full-well that the weird tights would appear to look like some sort of psoriasis in bar-lighting.  Fuck it.  I didn’t want to be sexualized anyway.  That’s right creepers, I have scaly-skinned legs.  I threw a dress on over this combo and we headed out.

The streets were deserted and dusted with snow.  It was unavoidable to realize that is was Christmas.  Ross drove us in silence.  The event was held at a venue in a location that I passed regularly, yet had never been to.  it was called The Grand, and sat right on the corner of a busy intersection.  We parked and saw people standing out front, having a cigarette in beach attire whilst donning leis.  I smiled.  Ross got into his trunks in the car, I ditched my dress and we headed in.

When you enter The Grand, there is sort of a hallway, leading to a podium where the doorman will check your ID.  Tonight, said doorman had on nothing but a speedo and intense back-tattoos.  This put me way at ease.  Clearly, I will be conservatively dressed if this is the standard inside.  He let me know that all ladies in bathing suits tonight get free vodka-soaked gummy bears all night.  Hell yes. We checked our coats and walked in.

The door guy.
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Best use of a speedo to hold a cell phone.
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Upon entering, it wasn’t very crowded. There were maybe 15 people inside. There were 3 women in the building wearing bathing suits that included myself, and two other girls. They looked a LOT different in their suits than I did. I ran to the bar to get a drink and claim my bears. Dudes at the bar were fucking leering.  This was clearly one of those things that sounded way better in theory than actually doing it.  I sped from the bar with my drinks and was glad to see Ross chose to sit at a back booth far from anyone or anything.

There were guys in various versions of suits.  The only bad thing was they could easily throw a coat over it and look completely normal and covered.  It really wasn’t that big of a deal.  I wasn’t exposed at the booth with the large table in front of me in the dark corner.  The gummy bears were surprisingly good, and considering there were only three of us that showed up in the theme dress, they would need me to eat more than my fair share of them.  Our friend, Paul came over and hung out with some of his friends.  Everyone was friendly, and having a good time. Ross was actually having fun.

Me, Paul, and a new friend. Horrible tights and all.
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A lighter shade of pale.
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There turned out to be musical performances. First up were the girls in the suits. They had a little two-person band, and were really funny. All their songs were comedy-themed and totally crass. They were enjoyable to watch and kept us laughing the entire time. During their act, we saw the crowd growing. I noticed that there was a stairwell leading down to a basement. There was a sign above it that said Andrea’s Cha Cha Club. Apparently this large space held a second venue, that was having its own event down below. It must have been “creepy old man” night down there, as within 15 minutes of Paris and Delaney hitting the stage the floor was filled with straight-up creepers. Dudes sipping their beers slowly, while eyeing the stage like they were at a sex-show. I shuddered. It was when the girls were singing their last song, charmingly about venereal diseases, I had to pee. I had felt like I needed to go for a while now, but it was becoming urgent. I knew I was going to have to stand up and use the restroom. My coat was inaccessible, therefore I would have to just march across the room and find the bathroom. Let ’em stare. The absolute worst they could do to me is leer. Yes, Ross should have escorted me to the bathroom. Those of you that know Ross, however know that he is far from knowing what the proper thing to do is. I stood up to go.

Cute.
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As if I were wearing a spotlight around my neck, all of those creepy dudes turned their heads to look at me the minute I stood up. I looked around the space. I couldn’t see any obvious area for the restroom. I sure as hell didn’t want to walk around and look for it. I darted to the bar, leaving my gold lame ass completely exposed to the crowd. I asked for the bathroom. The bartender explained it was actually downstairs, in the “Cha Cha Club”. FUCK ME.

Sleazy.
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I walked to the stairway. It lead into complete darkness. This may be the only basement I’ve ever ACTUALLY feared in my entire life. I made my way down the stairs. I could hardly see what was in front of me, and I was clinging to the rail to not take a header down and crack open my skull.  Two black dudes in their mid-40’s passed me en route. I heard a remnant of their conversation. One guy said to the other that he heard “bitches in bathing suits are upstairs”. They looked at me, shocked. Then instantly fanned out to block my passage down the stairwell. They started picking up on me, clearly so drunk they were swaying back and forth. I was vulnerable. Suddenly, a male voice came booming up the hallway for the guys to “get the fuck out of my way”. The guys jumped to march single-file the rest of the way up the stairs, craning their necks to look and leer back at me the entire way. After they cleared the stairs, I saw a second doorman, sitting on a stool and the base of the stairs. Oh thank God.  

“You okay?”  he asked as I descended the last few steps.

I let him know I was fine, but also let him know I was relieved to see him there.  I looked into the entrance of the Cha Cha.  It was absolutely packed with what appeared to be mostly middle-aged men.  Salsa music was blaring.  The few women that I saw in there were in tight, tacky dresses bumping and grinding against various men while the crowd watched.  Yikes.  I went to the bathroom and made my way back up the stairs.  I would make it a point to not need to go again.

Paris and Delaney had just left the stage, and the upstairs was still filled with the overspill creepers.  I wanted another drink, but refused to cross the floor to the bar.  I sat back down with Ross and made him go.  The next act was two white guys spewing really good hip-hop.  It was ironic, and funny.  Thankfully, this act managed to clear out all the weird creepers and force them back down to the basement.

Can’t imagine why the pervs weren’t into this act too.
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Ater this act, it was karaoke time. How fun. Ross absolutely loves doing karaoke. I like watching, not doing. I helped myself to more booze-bears and watched folks belt out their best Steve perrys and Stevie Nicks. There were a few kiddie-pools sitting in the middle of the dance floor filled with balloons. I wondered what these were going to be eventually filled with and when that part of the night was going to happen.

The crowd was definitly loosening up at this point.  Folks were running up on stage and singing in groups, as well as dancing and cavorting around the swimming pools.  Ross and I decided we needed to kick the party in high-gear by getting up and doing a little R. Kelly.  Don’t worry guys, I set up the video camera right before going on stage:

Clearly, I’m just up there as the “hype-man”.  Ross was asked to stay on stage after that and sing whatever he wanted.  This ranged from Luniz to Neil Diamond.  I took pictures, danced with whomever, ate gummy bears.  I’m lucky I didn’t barf in the pool.

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Finally, the pool got used. No liquid required.
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We covorted until last-call. As the evening wound down, I was pleased that it didn’t feel like Christmas at all. It was so nice to not have to think about it for even a minute. We sat, finishing our last drinks with our friends in the back booth. I was reviewing pictures on my camera memory. One picture caught my eye. Somehow, I had taken a picture of someone’s vagina. At one point, I was shooting a picture of a crowd of people dancing on the stage. Some girl was bent over, not wearing underwear, and I caught a perfect shot of her bare vagina. I showed to Ross. The other members at the table looked on. One of the girls at the table asked to see the picture. I handed her the camera. After looking at it for a minute, the handed the camera back to me. She had deleted the picture. I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to do anything with it anyway.  It was just funny that it happened.  Perhaps I missed my calling as one of those sleazy paparazzi trying to catch crotch-shots of celebrities climbing out of their cars.

We payed up and headed off into the night. Tomorrow, it would be Christmas. I would have to open gifts and cook a traditional meal for our friends. I would do my best to not feel sad. I would try and not think about painful memories and drink too much.  This night was weird, the right kind of weird.  Not sure what this year will hold.  I am certainly NOT making another one of those ghost trees again.  EVER.

Joining the seamy underbelly of the horse track (or how I won a prize with a hat)

21 Jul

This has been going on for months, me hanging out and having a drink with Jockeys.  Not just Jockeys, but people involved in all aspects of running and maintaining of a working horse track.  I looked forward to sitting at the bar and hearing interesting stories from behind the scenes, unruly race patrons, and the intricacies of training a race horse.  None of these things I knew shit about.  The closest I’ve come to a horse race is attending the once-annual at the fair in my home town of Fresno, Ca with my dad when I was about 6.  Like all things done in Fresno, it was half-assed and completely forgettable.  I knew about as much about racing as I do about horses themselves.  I’ve neither rode a horse, nor even physically touched one. I had the opportunity to pet a horse once.  Said horse pulled away from my hand in disgust so I didn’t press it.  Horses are big, muscular, and frankly they scare me just a little bit.  Something about their eyes.  They just seem very smart, and I would feel bad riding one.   How did this all begin, me hanging out with the horse-folk and eventually at the track?  Its all Ross’ fault (of course).

Ross chose the apartment that we currently reside.  It’s far from anything, inconvenient, and impossible to get to without a car.  This poses a real challenge when we both work full time, on opposite ends of town, and share a car.  If I get off before him, I usually will take the MAX from downtown in which it drops me off not too far from his work where the car will be waiting.  On occasion, I arrive about an hour before he’s due to get off work.  Not enough time to realistically drive home and back, too long to sit and wait in the car.  One such day as I was walking from the MAX, I realized simultaneously that I had to pee and was starving.  I really couldn’t wait to appease either.  My choices were a Burger king, a chinese restaurant , and a mexican cantina.  Burger king was automatically out.  The other two were a gamble.  Both looked really “white” and not authentic to either’s respective cultures AT ALL.   Both offered booze, so it was between whether I was willing to pay for bad chinese or bad mexican.  The chinese place was nearly windowless, so I couldn’t tell what kind of vibe I’d be walking in to.  I noticed some shady-looking gentlemen by the smoking area engaged in what clearly was a drug deal.  I looked over at the cantina.  It was painted in bright, cheery colors with a sign boasting a typically racist picture of a mustached man in a sombrero.  Honestly, I’d much rather prefer to choke down bad mexican rather than bad chinese.  I mean, there’s always chips and salsa…right?  Turns out, I made a wise choice that day taking a gamble with The Burrito House.

I entered a very dark bar with only 4 other people inside.  3 older men were at the bar, 1 woman behind it pouring drinks.  It was oddly soothing and serene inside.  I sat at the remaining empty bar seat, ordered a salty dog and some tacos.  Soon after, we were all engaged in conversation.  We talked about all sorts of subjects, but mostly horses.  They all worked at the Portland Meadows in varying capacities. The Meadows loomed large, just a stone’s throw from the cantina.  I was always curious about it.  I would see the huge structure every day from the freeway on my way to work.  I thought it would be an experience to visit.  I mean, a working horse track with live races has to get weird, right?  The jockeys knew the town I was from (because of the Fresno Fair races) and were fascinated that I knew so little on the subject.  I quickly discovered that this bar was the official watering hole of everyone who worked at the Meadows.  The regulars had posted framed photos of themselves with their racehorses behind the bar. As people introduced themselves to me, they pointed to their respective pictures and told me their horses names. The conversation was honestly fascinating and by the end of it I had resolved that I would use my next day off to go to the races and see what it was all about.  The men themselves were polite in the sort of way that most men aren’t any more.  Classy gentlemen who treated a lady like they would back in high-bred social society in the 50’s.  They called me Ma’am, and lit my cloves for me.  The jockeys were very small in stature, but dressed to the nines in turquoise and silver.  Decked out in cowboy hats, crisp and pressed wrangler dress shirts, and ostrich leather boots that probably cost more than my laptop, their appearance was as pleasant as the conversation. They urged me to go and see them ride and check it out. I discovered the live races are only a few short months out of the year, and only on two days a week. With me working full time, I knew it would be tough for me to get there. I marked it on my calendar and decided to make it a priority.

Probably skip the food, order a drink instead.
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The most “Mexican” thing here.
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I now consider myself a semi-regular to the Meadows. That first time we went, Ross and I had no idea what we were doing. The place was massive. Beyond massive.  We spent the first hour simply walking the building and the grounds trying to figure out how it all worked. We sat in front of one of the machines in which you could place bets and googled terms.  Soon, we sort of figured out how to bet.  We tried our hand at it, won a few small pay outs.  I was most interested in the other people that were there.  We went on a dreary Wednesday afternoon in October.  the place was sparsely populated, or so it just seemed due to how large the space was.  Its massive square footage could easily dwarf a crowd of hundreds to seem like a ghost town.  I noticed a man sitting by himself at a betting station, papers spread out before him.  He was furiously punching numbers into a graphing calculator and recording statistics into a large ledger.  It was apparent that this man gambles on horse races full time and probably as his major source of income.  I slowly sipped my greyhound and watched in awe of what he was doing.  After a little while, he noticed me watching him.  He glared at me and slammed his note book shut.  He gathered all his papers, briefcase, pencils, etc and moved to a far table while muttering under his breath.  Clearly, he didn’t want me to discover his secret strategy.  If only I were that astute.  I still count on my fingers, dude.  This shit is WAY over my head.  If you noticed, I said that this first visit was in October.  The Meadows is gloriously equipped with a fully-enclosed observational deck.  You can go out and stand by the track, or not.  Watching the horses race was interesting.  They were beautiful and seeing them race to cross the finish line with people cheering was exhilarating.  I had to get over any hippie girl notions deep down inside of me that felt like this whole affair was cruel and barbaric.    That voice was screaming out.  I had this conversation with the horse-handlers at the cantina and they assured me it isn’t.  I chose to relax and try and enjoy the experience and trust what they’d told me.

The observational deck.
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Finish line.
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Winner. 
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The Meadows opened in the 40’s. It was destroyed in a flood in the 70’s and rebuilt. I doubt many renovations have been done since then. The place isn’t shoddy or run down at all. Instead you walk in and enter another time. Its like being on a movie set. Its one of the few places I’ve been where I feel classy and trashy all at the same time. I feel that same way in Vegas. Its like stepping into another world. Whenever I go, I feel compelled to dress up and to pleasant surprise others feel the same way. I love going, walking around and seeing the white-haired regulars in their best suit watching the races with an old-fashioned in their hand. The ladies are almost always in some amazing vintage dress paired with white gloves. The trashy element comes through with the chronic gamblers. My mother was a gambling addict, and I know the look of one. That obsessed look in the eye paired with sadness and desperation. It literally turns my stomach and is the reason I refuse to gamble in any capacity. Ross will, but I won’t participate. Usually when I get in the Meadows, as soon as I see one of those poor souls I run to the bar for a drink to soften the edges around unsavory memories of my mother.

That first day we went, I saw some of my Burrito House regulars there in their element. They were excited that I made it and let me know which races they’d be riding in so I could watch. How fun. It wasn’t crowded that day so I got to stand right up at the finish line and see the race up close and personal. It was interesting to see what kinds of other people go to the horse races on an October weekday. There were all sorts, even little kids. Shouldn’t they have school right now? I suppose its none of my concern.

The glittering exterior overlooking the track.
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Our vast winnings.
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Lady-jockeys.
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We went a number of times after that time.  We took friends who had just moved here and went just for a fun, cheap thing to do on a day off.  I drank at the Burrito house waiting for Ross to get off work more.  Go, have one drink, chat with the regulars-some of them more colorful than others.  Sometimes I get a drink bought for me, sometimes I get asked out on a date, usually a too drunk regular will pledge to “watch out for me” and that “he doesn’t fuck around”, other times I hear interesting things about horses that I would have never guessed to be true.  I’ve chatted with an Alaskan fisherman, a former playboy bunny, a man who builds casinos, even a guy who owned a farm in Fresno!  Always interesting conversation over chips and salsa (which is really more like marinara sauce, but that’s the Pacific Northwest for you).  Once I saw a Craigslist “Missed Connection” about a young girl writing in a laptop at the Burrito House.  Considering I’m the only one I’ve ever seen in there under the age of 45 and definitely the only person who’s ever drug a laptop in there, I’ll go ahead and assume it was for me.   I should have saved it to my hard drive for y’all to read, because it was super weird.

SUMMER OPENING

For the first time in its history, The Portland Meadows chose to do summer live races.  Its kind of a big deal.  Previously, as I mentioned before it was only open in the dreary months, creating a sort of desolate and bleak background.  Suddenly, for whatever reason they chose to open up for summer.  A fantastic business decision, in my opinion.  The thing about Portland is during winter, people either hole up in their neighborhood bars or they hibernate all together.  Summertime is a magical time where everyone goes out and enjoys everything.  Every bar patio is packed, streets are flooded with bikers (both motor and ped-driven), the city really comes alive with activity and excitement.  When I heard there would be a July opening day at the Portland Meadows I knew it would be awesome.  I also saw that there would be a hat contest for ladies.  For those of you that know me well, you’ll know that I fucking LOVE contests and I will enter any that cross my path, regardless of prize.  This is especially true if the contest is based on a craft.  I have a certain gift of crafting, and I like to compete with it.  The contest rules were simple:  Show up on opening day, while wearing the best “Kentucky Derby” style hat-win money.  ITS ON.

As luck would have it, I was scheduled the opening day off from work.  It was clearly a sign, as it was on a Sunday and folks who are retail managers such as myself never have a weekend off.  Ever.  I convinced my friend Kyle to go with me.  He wouldn’t be wearing a hat, but assured me he would don his finery for the occasion.  The day before the race, I bought a floppy hat that was on clearance at my work to use in my craft.  It wasn’t necessarily my favorite, but I didn’t have a lot of money and it was cheap so I HAD to make it work.  I set my alarm for 10 am (when Dollar Tree opened) and planned on hitting up the store for supplies and creating my hat while drinking my morning coffee the next day.  I have to admit, I had reservations.  Once upon a time, back in fresno I entered a “best pet costume” contest with my dog Ham.  I had the perfect idea:  Create a giant Ham for her to wear.  I went to the craft store, invested $20, and created a pretty badass outfit for my dog.  I stood back, looked ant my handy-work and thought I had it in the fucking bag.  I looked around at the other contenders.  True, some other people’s dogs were purebred and I suppose “cuter” than my dumpster pound dog, but only one other person and myself actually hand-crafted a costume for their pet.  Everyone else just slapped some store-bought, generic thing on their pooch and called it a day.  People were going crazy for my dog’s outfit.  The newspaper came and interviewed me.  Some guys in a local band took her picture and said they were using it for their album cover.  Holy shit!!  The year’s worth of free dog food prize is fucking MINE!!!  My dog seemed to know it too.  She wore the totally cumbersome costume with a sense of pride.  She was grinning with doggy glee, and nearly wagged her tail off her body.  Come judgement time, I was dumbstruck when we didn’t win.  We didn’t even place.  The other dogs that won just had target, store-bought costumes that anyone could go and buy.  Clearly, it was rigged.  What the FUCK?  We won nothing.  Ham and I slinked away, heads hanging in shame.  How did I not win?  I’ve been in doubt of my craftsmanship ever since.

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We had gone out the night before, so of course I slept though my alarm on race day and fell behind on my schedule. I woke up, darted to Dollar Tree and quickly shopped for supplies. Thank god for Dollar Tree in general. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used it as a resource. The hat I bought posed some challenges, aesthetically. It was blue and black striped. I knew I didn’t want to make a tacky hat. I wanted to make a hat any woman could feel beautiful wearing. Something glamorous. That’s kind of hard to do when we’re discussing hot-glueing Dollar Tree crap to an ugly clearance hat. I used what I know about color theory to choose my accents and headed home to assemble. I drug out my craft box and within 30 minutes created a hat. I looked at it. It was good, but I thought to myself that it wasn’t a winning hat. It hit all the points I had wanted to achieve as far as attractiveness goes, but I felt it was too safe. Didn’t stand out enough. I resolved that I probably wouldn’t win, but it will still be fun to dress up and participate. I was so behind in time, Kyle showed up at my place while I was still in pajamas and the gold spray paint on my hat was still drying. He appraised my work. Yay. I raced to put a dress on and get going.

All dolled up
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A close-up of my handy-work.
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Before we go any further, I feel compelled to remind you guys that my very nice Nikon is in the shop. This forces me to either use my shit 3GS iphone camera on my phone or shoot with my ancient film camera. I’ve been opting for the latter. In addition to this, I have a stock-pile of film I never used that is about 15 years old. Being someone who used to be very “into” photography, I am fully aware that the quality of that film has degraded with time and the temperature in which it was housed. I choose to use it anyway for that vintage feel that those instagrammers are constantly striving for. Considering where I was going and the look and feel of it, I felt that damaged film would be perfect to shoot with.

When we arrived, I was overwhelmed with how packed the parking lot was. As I’ve already mentioned,the usual season was super dead. This summer grand opening was POPULAR. I was eager to get inside and register with the hat-folk and see what others had made. I soon realized that no one else was wearing any sort of elaborate derby hat. Shit that’s awkward.  I pulled up the facebook page for the Meadows and double-checked.  Yep.  Says right there that there’s a hat contest.  Man, were people staring.  Oh well, I figured I’ll have a glass of red wine and own that shit anyway.  Yes, I totally have 7 pounds of crap on top of my head and I’m wearing it with pride.  I registered, got my wine, and hung out while Kyle and Ross placed some bets on horses.

Ross’ lunch.  Incidentally, they only had two kinds of soda for sale that day:  Doctor Pepper and Mountain Dew-the white trash faves.
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A dapper Kyle placing a bet.Photobucket

Turning one dollar into 8
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I always order from the upstairs bar, not sure why.
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After betting a little and eating some food, we decided to mill around and people watch. Also watch each race, which posts about every 20 minutes or so. While watching a race, often times someone will come and stand next to you and try and educate you on the race and the stats.  They probably assume we’re some douchebag hipsters there for the irony.  I guess that may be why we went there the very first time, but we keep coming back because in some way we belong there.  I like to hear them tell me about the races anyway, even if I already know the information.  Its fun to hear someone talk about something they’re passionate about.

I don’t know what any of that shit is.
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Getting ready to race.
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Finish line
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A handsome day at the races.
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Horses are pretty.
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Crowded.
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Collecting winnings.
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The other bar.
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If you’re a lucky girl a jockey will flirt with you here. Its all about jockey groupies.
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Because I wasn’t sure if the film in my camera would ultimately be useable or not, I asked Kyle to take back up pics on his iphone just in case.  The film ended up working fine, so the extras he shot weren’t necessary.  Even still, I thought I’d share a few highlights from his camera roll with you:

This guy actually played Eye of the Tiger on that thing at one point.

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Some butts for you.
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During our day there, many random folks wanted to take their picture with me and my hat. A woman from The Oregonian came and interviewed me. I was getting a lot of attention for the hat and at that point I had really wished I had put a tiny bit more effort into my hair and makeup. Oh well.  Another glass of wine will probably make me stop worrying so much about that.

EPILOGUE

I wasn’t there to hear my name called, but I did in fact win the hat contest that day.  THAT’S FUCKIN’ RIGHT I WON THAT SHIT!  The Facebook page said that the prize was cash, which I desperately needed.  Everyone had left for the day, so I was unclear as to what the actual prize was.  All I knew is that I had to go to a hat store called Goorin Bros that sponsored the contest during business hours and claim my prize.  I wasn’t really that concerned about what the prize was.  I was just pleased with myself that I won and that I finally redeemed myself for that shit-show that was the dog costume contest.  Kyle and I giggled with glee and went to get the best fried chicken in Portland to celebrate.  This chicken is so good, its a prize unto itself.

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After slipping into a pleasant chicken coma, I knew there was only one place to go to celebrate my victory.  I donned my prize-winning hat and headed to the Burrito House.  My jockey friends were there, and cheered when I came in.  I had a drink and heard everyones stories about their wins and their losses that day and which number horse they were riding.  It was a really good day, one of the best I’ve had in a while.

The photo used in The Oregonian.
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Gothic Memorial Day

20 Jun

I had the day off work on this last Memorial day.  It was a typically gloomy Portland May day, so “normal” memorial day activities such as barbecuing or being outdoors in the sunshine were out of the question.  I checked the paper for any interesting indoor activities to do that day.  Low and behold there indeed was something interesting to do:  An annual tour and festival at a historic mausoleum and crematory.  There was to be vintage cars, food, crypt tours, music and refreshments.  Holy crap.  PERFECT.  I also remembered seeing this place as one of the top weirdest things to do in Portland on some website I looked at when I first moved to city.  I also knew from the website that the facility was only open to the public a few times a year.  I knew exactly who to call to join me on this strange activity.  I called up one of my oldest friends and asked her if  she would like to go.  Hell yes, she did.

There was a slight problem.  As you know from my last blog post, my camera hasn’t been working properly.  After it totally let me down while I was trying to shoot a family wedding, it needed to go to the shop for repairs.  There was no way in hell I was going to this event without a camera.  I mean, what’s the point?  The camera on my half-broken iphone 3 wasn’t going to cut it either.  The camera on that thing has less clarity than a homemade pinhole camera made from a shoe box.  I decided I would stop and get some disposable cameras on the way there and use those.  They suck, but its something.  Then I had a moment of clarity.

What do all goth kids (and most first-year film students) do?  Shoot black and white pics in a graveyard, right?  Well this is like the ultimate graveyard and I just so happen to have my old film SLR and 2 rolls of black and white film in my house!  YES.  HELL YES!  Don ye black clothing, wear extra eyeliner, and light a clove-we’re going to do goth-tivities today!

It’s probably time for you to press play and enjoy some background music for your reading

It took us forever to get there.  I wasn’t familiar with the area it was in at all.  My GPS on that afore mentioned crap phone I own was little to no help.  After driving up and down the same street 5 times and after falsely entering a posh country club (a blog for another time, perhaps) we finally pulled in to the parking lot.  Quickly we discovered that this bitch was PACKED!  Seriously?  Other people wanted to spend their memorial day looking at crypts?  I was honestly surprised.   The facility was also big.  Big enough we really didn’t know how to get in or where to begin.  We followed the crowd and entered one of the main buildings.  Bianca led the way, and soon yelled back for me to get out my camera.

A portion of the outer building
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I’ll take take this moment to mention that I’ve only been in a funeral home two times in my life-once when mom died and the second when dad did.  They all have a certain look and feel to them, and the mere sight of one turns my stomach.  No one has ever been happy about being in a funeral home waiting room, and you can feel it the minute you walk in.  It seem like these places saturate the misery held by its visitors into its walls.  I did not realize that was a open facility and was still accepting people for burial.  When we first entered the main building, we had to pass through the lobby of the funeral home to get to the other parts.  The beige carpet, potted plants, and sad drapes and chairs made me almost throw up when I saw them.  All that driven home by the multitude of Kleenex boxes dotting tables and counter tops in equally sad, beige colors.  Bianca hurried me past this personal horror and into the historic portion.

It was open for business in 1910.  I had never seen anything like it.  Creepy statues, stained glass, wall engravings, seating areas…it really is hard to describe.  It contained every type of way to bury someone imaginable-coffin, urn, fancy or meager.  Because they just kept adding on to the existing structure, the layout was totally bizarre.  Twists, turns, staircases going up and down everywhere you looked.  Some areas were very modern and sterile in design, whereas the older ones were creepily elaborate.  I’m not sure if I even need to mention this, but yes this place was spooky as SHIT.  It doesn’t even matter that it was daytime, and crowded with people.  This was an inherently creepy place with creepy looking shit everywhere you looked.  it was obviously the more antiquated wings of the facility that raised the most goosebumps.  Even if you’re a person that doesn’t believe in ghosts, such as myself, you really can’t help but be struck with the overwhelming magnitude of the graves contained within the structure, as well as the prolific history.  I must say, I’ve become fascinated by the way humans feel a need to honor the dead.  Seeing these elaborate memorials piqued this interest immensely.  We began to wander.  We didn’t see any maps, and we both began to feel a concern that getting lost in there was a very real possibility.  Bianca asked me, “What time does this place close?”  I told her the event was over at 4.  She then said, “We’re going to want to keep a real close on eye on the time.  I sure as hell do not want to get locked in here.”

NO SHIT.

She wore black, but kept it light with a hot pink beanie
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One of the memorial enclaves. The entire nook contains a family lineage buried in the walls
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The majority of the wings were very well-lit. Curiously, others were very dim and in a few cases, completely black.  I’m not joking.  I get that this is a very large building, thusly costing plenty to light and maintain.  You’d think, however that only being open a few times a year they’d go ahead and splurge on lighting the whole thing.  I’m not really sure why entire hallways and wings were open and pitch black.  They were neither roped off, or populated with on-lookers. We walked through all of them, taking in the atmosphere.  The graves went floors below ground level, as well as spiraled stories high.  Every time we found a staircase, we explored it.  Every turn was something unexpected and visually stunning.

Floor-to-ceiling graves.
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One of the scariest things we saw…an open grave ready for a fresh coffin.  The engraved marble plaque was propped up against a wall.  behind the curtain was a gaping black hole.Photobucket

An overhead view of the modernized wing. Blackened hallway off in the distance.
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The modern portion of the building was built in sort of a spiral.  The center of the building, at the ground floor held an impressive water fountain, adorned with cherubim.  The floors above and below were built around this so that when one looks up or below when standing in the very center, the fountain is visible.  When we stumbled upon the level in which this fountain is meant to be viewed head-on, it took our breath away.  Yes, it was also fucking creepy-looking.

What pairs well with a mass-grave? How ’bout evil-looking angel babies?
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We felt irreverent for taking this picture.
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How dark were these unlit portions? This fucking dark. Who’s a scaredy-cat now?
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Time for a new song, I suppose.

Each of the upper floors had a chapel and a grand statue.  Why is her tit out?Photobucket

The view from the upper floors is spectacular.
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Most of the crowd there that day were elderly people. Not just older folks, but people that were near their own ends. It was a little morbid to see these people shuffling along looking at graves.

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A note left on a grave with baby toys, clothes, shoes, etc.  possibly the saddest grave in the building.
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There was one area of the mausoleum was more awesome then the rest. It was in a portion for cremated remains. Rather than just the glass cases containing various urns, the family had turned the space into a little diorama of their loved-ones lives. There were hundreds of these, and each one was filled with trinkets, photos, even ashes housing their beloved pets. Each little glass case told a story about who was in there and what decade in time they lived. You guys can see to it that this is how I’m memorialized. Put Ham in there with me.

One such diorama. Me in the reflection.
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The massive mural that adorns the outside of the building.  You know here in Portland someone had to “put a bird on it”
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You can see Oaks Park from the windows. A cheerful view from our side, making their view from the ferris wheel quite bleak, I’m sure.Photobucket

As we got to the very top floor, it was obvious how high up we were in a very old building.  It was hot, stuffy, and overall very hard to breathe.  Bianca kept saying that it smelled like dead people in there.  I knew what she meant.  The dead flowers on the gravestones, the lack of air circulation, the elderly folk…  it was time to get some fresh air.  We agreed that we needed to get the hell out of there.  We began a hurried descent down about 6 floors, though endless hallways and corridors.  Luckily, exits were clearly marked and there would be no chance of getting lost and trapped in there.

Graves are everywhere, even in the stairwell.
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Not to forget, this is a festival after all! Just after you come out of the large portion of the main building, you are met with the anachronistic shock of a cheerful refreshment stand. Somehow touring a crypt doesn’t make me want a hot dog and popcorn. Oh and also eating food isn’t very goth.

They had donut holes too.  Surprisingly enough, no red wine.
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A historian giving someone a tour of some famous graves. No one sounded familiar to me.
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The large chapel. Dim as fuck.
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Me, in front of one of the older graves.
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In addition to the elderly that were there, there was also a good handful of goths there. Some total mall-goth kids, but a few serious ones as well. We walked past a young girl dressed in full-on victorian garb getting her portrait taken in front of one of the stained glass windows. It was comforting to know I wasn’t the only irreverent asshole there to take pictures. I desperately wanted to get a picture of the mall-goths for you. It just didn’t happen. Film camera in a low-light situation doesn’t bode well for quick, candid shots.

Seriously, why is it so dark in here?
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Bianca, bravely leading the way
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She told me she wanted to buy a plot to be buried here.  Shit got real.
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The flower room. Around the corner, a man was talking to one of the graves.
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Well put.
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Vampire movie-style graves. With the big marble slab top and everything.
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Cremated remains
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Outside view of one of the older portions of the building
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‘MERICA!
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After our tour, we were exhausted. Being goth is hard work! Frankly, there was a lot of shit to look at in there. Even though we covered a lot of ground, we probably only saw about half of it. There were way too many hallways and hidden staircases to explore it all. We decided we had enough. We also decided we needed lunch and I needed a drink.

Nothing celebrates life more than a big plate of mexican food. (We really wanted fish & chips, but couldn’t find a place that was open)
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Ghost Hunting

1 Feb

Monday evening I found myself at a paranormal investigation. How does something like this even happen? How, indeed. It all began as I was walking my dog and saw a Facebook post about a gathering of friends at The Foggy Notion in my neighborhood. I almost didn’t go, but at previous gatherings with this group of friends there has been free food. I hadn’t eaten dinner and the bar was right on my way home so I decided to pop in. The invite said the event started at 7, so I was a bit perplexed when I arrived at 7:45 to find the bar locked up and dark. I called my friend and he assured me this gathering was happening and he let me in. I then discovered there was no food but there was a paranormal investigation being set up and about to begin. My friend then but a chalkboard sign out in front of the bar with a simple picture of a ghost drawn on it so the other ghost hunters would know they found the right place. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt as I sat down and eyed the equipment set-up and realized that yes I was here and yes this was happening.  The owner told me that she believed the bar was haunted and hired people to come in and see if they could find proof.

Ok.  The bar is a little creepy.

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Ross inquiring about some of their equipment.

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The woman in the above picture was running the show. She told us some of her best ghost encounter stories. She also was pleased to have Ham there, as animals attract spirits. She told me she was able to write off all the expenses for her two cats because she uses them frequently on the job to detect ghosts. Ham, for the record, showed no signs of distress in the bar so its unclear whether she sensed any spirits.

Night vision cameras.  Use caution.

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For your next party.
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Before the hunt began, my friend Jed regaled me with a story of the one and only time he had ever been to Fresno. He said his band played a show there once, most likely at the then ‘Club Fred’ and due to a series of unfortunate events was asked to leave town by Fresno P.D. It had to do with their pornographic flyer, someone threatening a bank teller and a pyrotechnics accident. Anyway, if you’re going to have just one story about Fresno, it should be something like that.

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A brief bathroom break and the hunt begins.

Ghost Dog.

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The group getting an introduction and some info on what will take place.

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The group was handed EMF detectors, heat sensors, pendulums and divining rods, and we were encouraged to seek out unusual disturbances.

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For some reason the right side of Jed’s beard was getting a strong reaction.

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Comparing results.
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The ghost hunting crew then turned all the lights out in the bar. We gathered in a circle around a sound amplifier to see if we could communicate with any spirits and if we could hear them trying to speak with us. I could only describe it as a cross between the noise a police scanner makes mixed with an experimental noise band. We asked all kinds of questions and came to find out that there were 8 ghosts occupying the bar, one who’s name was Rachel. This attempt to communicate with the spirits went on for the next hour.

The sound amplifier.

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Night-vision video.  What the hell is that??

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The evening finished up with the determination that all the spirits in the bar were friendly ones and posed no threat. Rachel had even told the owner she wanted to be friends. A dog named Bullet apparently was affected by the spirits present as he lay into Ross’ arm and humped it. Perhaps it was Rachel?

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The Dog displaying the strength of a sex-starved female.

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The “Dic-Pic” Incident.

18 Sep

I work at a very large, notoriously obnoxious clothing store in downtown Portland.  Most days when I’m clocking off I’m angry, stressed, exhausted, and pretty neurotic.  On this particular day, I was extra-frustrated with my co-workers and customers and was practically running out the door to go home.  As I was clocking out, I checked my phone to see if anyone had called.  That’s when I saw it:

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You should be thankful this is censored.

a big, fat picture text of someone’s cock.  Most definitely a stranger’s cock, as I surely did not recognize it. Sent from a 559 area code, I didn’t have the number in my phone and had NO idea who or more importantly why this dick was sent to me.

The picture was strange: a quite unattractive erect penis with copious amounts of pubic hair.  The background was what appeared to be a female’s or even a child’s bedroom.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around it!  What deranged individual was sitting around some female’s house at 4pm and thought “Hmmmm….I bet Christine would really like to see a picture of my dick”?  It wasn’t even sent during the classic ‘drunk text’ time of the night.  And let’s say it was an accident?  So some guy is just picture-texting randomly punched in numbers?  Maybe in some dank bar in Fresno my number is scrawled on a bathroom wall along with the phrase “really likes to see pictures of wieners”.  Who knows?

After the shock and horror of having a strange penis forced in my eye-holes, I became angry.  Really angry.  I wanted to know who the hell sent that.  It was like a big, disgusting, hairy cherry on top of my already shit day.  I texted the number (and the picture) to my friends in Fresno to see if they knew the number: no dice.  I called the number from my work phone to see if they would answer or if they had a personal voice mail:  no on both.  I decided to kick it up a notch.  I put the phone number and exactly what they’d done on Facebook in hopes someone out there would know the person.  I even offered to forward the picture to anyone who happened to want to see it.  Still no answers on the identity.  I texted the number and let them know that I did not enjoy the picture, but about 6 of my gay guy-friends did:  no response.  Some of my friends began calling the number and texting it.  The rage continued.

Ross began calling the number pretty much non-stop.  Call, hang up, call, hang up, etc.   Finally at about 9pm, a guy answered.  He begged Ross to stop calling or else he’d have to get a new number.  The guy claimed to not know a thing about the picture-text nor whom I was.  Yeah right asshole.

My rage continues.  I would put the phone number here, but alas it has been changed.  To this day, the mystery remains.  Who was this anonymous cock-bandit and what were his motives?  For the record, pictures of penises do NOT cheer me up after a long and hard day’s work (pun intended).