December 2014 Archives

15 minute pass

Lizzie and I met for dinner before the game. "Oh boy, do I have a surprise for you!"

Do tell!

She had told a reporter friend about me, and now local TV and newspaper wanted to publish my story. A "lifelong Steelers fan relocated himself, his job, and his dogs for five months just to spend a season here" sort of feel-good story. It would make a good puff piece. I would watch that. I would read that.

"Pass," I said, using my hand to flick the stupid idea from the air in front of me.

"Wha- what?!" Lizzie was first confused, then aghast. She restated the offer, for surely I hadn't understood it. The next day, everyone at the cigar bar threw wadded up balls of paper at me.

Not for the first time in my life, I had to explain that I detest that sort of attention. I feel less than zero inclination to see myself on TV or read my name in print. I would pay to avoid the former.

It took me back to my arguments about fame with my actress friend Kristin. It came down to this: I said didn't want to be famous, and she insisted I was lying.

"Everyone wants to be famous, John." That is the sum of her evidence. Since I am a part of "everyone," I am a lying fame whore.

She couldn't wrap her head around my distaste for being put on display. Eventually, I gave up trying to explain it. What's to be said? Some of us accept a chance at fame as payment for making out with Vanilla Ice. And some people would pay serious money to avoid both.

drunky brewster

I'm over drunks.

I bought a pair of club seats for this football season, the idea being that I would treat new Pittsburgh friends to a game and thereby purchase their affections forever. The reality, of course, is that half of my tickets went instead to freeloading existing friends. And precious nil went to hot 22 year olds with brown ponytails and daddy issues. It's a world gone mad.

The other half did, in fact, go to new Pittsburgh friends. Prior to yesterday, the last two went to strangers who got plowed. Not just happily buzzed, but "(Nudge nudge) Watch me fuck with these people who just want to quietly sit here in their $500 seats and watch the game. (Obnoxious fuckery) That was awesome! I am awesome! High five!" obnoxious. In other words, I have subsidized the kind of fan conduct I truly despise, and they have repaid my kindness by ruining the good time of all in their field of view. Which unfortunately included me.

"Who are you taking to the final game?" asked Lizzie, a recovering alcoholic who's one-year sober.

"You. Definitely you."

brushes with greatness

I've bumped into a few celebrities in my life. Alec Baldwin, you know about. When I was a chauffeur in college, I drove Jerry Seinfeld around for a weekend. Perhaps the unlikliest was childhood hero Terry Bradshaw. I've met many of my childhood Steelers, so that part wasn't remarkable. It was where I ran into him: a grocery store in remote Poulsbo, WA. Imagine a Steelers fan running into a Steelers great here, and you can imagine my surprise.

"Here?!" I eloquently said.

Pittsburgh friend Risa has met 'em all, and she's smoother than me. She was walking down an alley on her way to the downscale cigar shop when she came upon Denzel Washington, leaning up against a fence and smoking during a break in filming.

"Say," she said. "Has anyone ever told you—"

"Yeah," he nodded.

"—that you can't smoke here?"

He laughed, and they chatted. Pointing at the cigar perpetually bobbing on her lower lip, he said he really respected a cigar-chomping woman. She invited him to the cigar shop, where, she promised, everyone would leave him alone. He joined her, and they smoked together, and people left him alone. He probably mistakenly attributes this to the coolness of the customers. But I know it's because they were so engrossed in telling the same goddamned alimony stories for the umpteenth time, they didn't notice specifically who they were boring.

I missed meeting Denzel, naturally, but I showed up two hours later. Risa was lingering in her seat, her eyes still awash with estrogen.

I grabbed my normal seat next to her.

"Don't sit there," she snapped. "Not today."

glory days

This recent photo of my old basketball court features a steel beam too intimately acquainted with my left knee.

I was in the best shape of my life. Through hard work and my innumerable natural gifts, I had elevated my basketball game to "not always a liability." We were playing four on four on that old asphalt court, the threads of chain nets hanging from the now-gone rims. This was a brutally rough court. Blood flowed freely, not all of it mine.

On this day, I was leading a fast break.

Ahhhh. Let me type that sentence again.

On this day, I was leading a fast break.

One more time. Pardon my indulgence.

On this day, I was leading a fast break. I passed back and forth with the guy on my wing (who I'd like to say was d'Andre, but let's face it; the man was no doubt standing doubled over behind me, hands on his knees, gasping). I decided to lay it in myself. I beat my guy off the dribble, leaped for the rim, and for some inexplicable reason entertained the notion that I was capable of changing hands while mid-air. I was going for exactly this:

What actually happened was that I sort of schlubbed the ball in the general direction of the rim and, still at full sprint, rammed my extended knee into the solid iron pole. It didn't make the resounding GOOONG! sound a hollow aluminum pole would make. It instead made the exact same sound as a cantaloupe being dropped 20 stories on to pavement.

I could not stand, not that I tried very hard. The boys carried me and my broken patella home, depositing me on my couch unceremoniously and returning to their game.

"Did I make the shot?" I asked, hopeful.

Such a cruel, cruel laugh ensued. I had hit the bottom of the backboard, and the ball had ricocheted off and hit my head.

meow

After a number of celebrity near-misses these last three months—Emma Watson, Alec Baldwin, Vin Diesel, Jodie Foster, Will Smith, and countless Steelers—Mr. Baldwin plopped next to me at the upscale cigar bar. We nodded at one another, but I otherwise left him alone.

Remember when he was kicked off a plane for refusing to stop playing Words with Friends? You guessed it. He played all night on his gigantic iPhone 6, the use-case for which is now more clear to me. A little.

Cinematographers' framed shots are the man's friend. He's maybe 5'7" in heels, and his head is enormous. Gone in my memory is barrel-chested corporate titan Jack Donaghy. In his place is a shop teacher who ran out of water pills two weeks ago and hasn't had a chance to get to the store.

old world, new world

I was telling a neighbor about my recent visit to my old apartment complex, but I didn't get much traction. As soon as I mentioned entering my old building, she interrupted me.

"Wait, how did you get in?"

"The door to the building isn't locked."

"Wha-WHAT?!"

"It's not exactly a luxury complex. Which like I was saying, there in the hallway was—"

"I just don't understand. They just let anyone walk right in?"

Yes. Yes they do. Now kindly pull your silver spoon out of your ear and listen to my crappy story.

wiseguy

Longtime Stank Troll John and I had plans to see the Steelers-Ravens game together, but his wife fainted at work, and he felt compelled to stay home and watch her not faint again. As John's reward, Roethlisberger torched the Ravens for six TDs. Because Ben's a dick like that.

John's game ticket went elsewhere, but John felt compelled to ship me a bottle of bourbon anyway. When I thanked him, he replied, "I just try to stay good with made men."

For good measure he added, "Well, it is a well known fact to anyone who's ever watched The Godfather or Wiseguys that mobsters are neat freaks."

home alone

IMG_3267.JPGMy eyes were still stinging with imaginary pinkeye at 4am. I groaned, resigned to watching movies on my iPad until everyone else woke up. Or...White Castles for breakfast! 15 minutes later, I was inhaling the cheeseburgers of my youth. God bless the guy who thought of the 24 hour drive-through.

I had a lot of time on my hands, so I drove around Columbus, my hometown. I left Columbus shortly after I graduated from Ohio State, and I rarely visit. My sister and I had visited our childhood home the day before, so I set off for the homes that followed. My homes.

Post-parental divorce, I grew up poor. My go-to illustration is that in the sixth grade, I had four shirts. On Fridays, I had to decide which shirt to repeat, and I carefully repeated on a rotation, as if I would be more ridiculed if I wore a shirt four times in two weeks instead of merely three times. I remained poor until I left Columbus for grad school.

I knew this, of course. I knew solvent people didn't write personal checks against one another in a ponzi scheme to delay needing the rent money for as long as possible. But until last weekend, I don't think I fully felt it.

Everywhere I went, I saw perfectly unremarkable places that once had metaphorical "No Johns Allowed" signs in their windows. This included restaurants and Ohio State games, sure, but also mundane places. That's the expensive doughnut shop, I thought. I couldn't afford to go there. That's the car wash where people with nice cars went. That's...

You get the idea. Everywhere I went last weekend, I was reminded of just how poor I'd been.

The dogs and I went to Maddie's and my old apartment, the place where I balled with d'Andre and Mason. A crumpled box of Newports laid amid the filth in the hallway outside the apartment, and at some point, they gave up replacing the rims on our basketball court. And weeding it. We awkwardly used one of the cracks as the three-point line.

As I left my old neighborhood and slowly drove back to my present life, I was a bit numb. I was surprised how surprised I was about all the reminders of my poverty. I felt sheepish. And then I went to that doughnut store and bought my sister a dozen.


i need a black light in here, stat

I dropped a taco on the table at my downscale cigar bar. "Well, that's done," I said as I scooped it off to the side.

"Oh, she just wiped the table down a few minutes ago," said Risa. "It's fine."

No, it most certainly isn't fine. This shithole is home, but I'm not eating food off its table. I might as well lap water out of the toilet bowl.

"Eat it! It's fine!" she implored. I glanced over at the woman wiping down the tables with a revolting, tattered brown rag that used to be white, and I tossed the taco into the garbage. Risa was disgusted with me. "Okay, princess. Jesus Christ," she snarled.

Allie says I'm a germophobe. Her evidence:

  1. I wash my hands before eating, and
  2. I get a little woozy when her daughter wipes her butt, glances at the sink in passing, and then puts her hands all over my face.
If that's a germophobe, then I suppose I'm guilty, but to me this is just basic hygiene. Perhaps having poopy-kid-fingers in your mouth all day dulls a person's sense of remedial cleanilness. I am not so dulled.

When the dogs and I arrived at my sister's house, we were greeted by my sister and her four Labrador retrievers. Dex immediately christened the back yard, and when I asked for a shovel, I was told to just let it ride. This caused me to survey the backyard, the surface area of which was about a 60:40 grass-to-excrement ratio. The dogs ran around as dogs do, rooster tails of crap in their wakes. Then we went inside, and I was shown to my room. My sister's dogs gleefully leaped on to my bed and walked all over the pillows upon which my face would soon rest. I threw up in my mouth a little.

That night in the dark, as I combated psychosomatic pinkeye symptoms, I imagined Risa and Allie mocking me. "It's just a little dog shit in your face. Jesus Christ, princess."

mobster

I saw my first chardonnay spit-take at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Chris had turned to me and, apropos of nothing, blurted out, "So Stephanie thinks you might be in the mob."

"I'm what, now?" I said as Stephanie wiped her chin with her sleeve.

Her husband leaned forward with excitement about the upcoming conflict. A defensive Steph then presented her case. "Well, that explanation makes a lot more sense than you coming into town for five months just to see the Steelers." We all had to concede that this was a pretty good point.

"Plus look at you. Beard and shaved head, all black clothes, trenchcoat. We've never seen you actually work, yet you buy anything you want. You wear sweats, like, all the time. You love conflict. When you're angry with someone you calmly say things like 'Just FYI, I'm gonna punch you in the throat in 30 seconds if you're still here.'" (True story) And whenever we've told you that a restaurant or bar or neighborhood is sketchy, you're there that very night."

Everyone looked at me, smiling, expectant. And then I unleashed an irrefutable defense: "If I'm going to fabricate a cover story, out of all the options available to me, why on earth would I pretend to be a technical writer?"

Steph slumped, defeated.

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