Recently in Pittsburgh 2014 Category

c-worthy

20 months ago, I walked into my bar in Pittsburgh and found that I shared the room with only a hot brunette. We chatted a bit, and then I left, but it turns out she was a regular too. We saw one another often, and soon we made plans to go to dinner and a football game together.

This is Michelle.

At one point, I was looking forward to dinner with her. That is so unimaginable to me now. I was there on time, sitting at the bar, slapping away the people who clamored for her seat. Time passed. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 70 fucking minutes. She walked in 72 minutes late.

"Hey," she apologized.

The older I get, the more I detest people who waste my time. I'd rather they steal my money than my time. Money, I can replace. By the time she walked in, I was detesting her a lot.

I bought her meal anyway, and we chatted, and she chatted up our neighbors. And then when I was in mid sentence, her phone buzzed.

"Oh, my Uber's here. Gotta go!" And she shot out the door.

"What just happened?" asked the server.

I talked to Dorkass on my walk home. As angers go, mine was orbital. I indulged in the saved-for-special-occasions c-word. She allowed it.

Michelle heard that I was livid, perhaps because I used the c-word in front of every bartender in town. After a few days, I was at the original bar when she plopped down next to me.

"Hi," she apologized.

We talked for a bit, and then my phone buzzed. "Oh, here's an irony for you," I said. "My Uber's here. But note that I'm taking a moment to say goodbye, lest I make the person I'm talking to feel like complete shit. This is how non-rude people behave." And then I left.

"I don't know what you said to Michelle," said the bartender later, "But when you left she was practically in tears."

Good.

Weeks passed, and I never heard from her. It started to dawn on me that I would never hear from her again. Rude people despise those who show them a mirror. Yet I had promised her a football ticket. "She won't cancel," I predicted. "She's going to make me ask if we're on." That's what rude people do. I explained the situation to my friend Risa, and she agreed to be my backup plan.

The day before the game, I texted Michelle. "Are we still on?"

"I'm sorry, my grandmother just died and I'm in New Orleans for the funeral," she replied. I then sent her a screenshot of her Instagram from her grandmother's funeral a month earlier. Yes, the only time she ever apologized was in fact a lie. That's perfect, somehow.

I would never see or speak to Michelle again. Until last week.

To be continued


we just assumed

I snapped this pic in Pittsburgh.

IMG_3450.JPG

well, there's yer problem

Madam and Eve invited me over for dinner last night.

I get along fine with my neighbors. Seattle fine. That is, we're friendly. We bleat affectionate noises at one another. We laugh at one another's jokes and consume one another's food and drink. And they could not tell you a single thing about me, because they simply do not care. "That's John. We love John," they would say. "He's from Iowa or somewhere and works with computers or something. You have got to try his Manhattan."

I like them, but they are quintessentially "Seattle people" to me. Behind every assurance that if I move they'd be devastated is my certainty that they have no idea, nor any interest in, who I am.

But Eve's parents do. Last night Dad asked about Pittsburgh, and he asked the hard questions. I admitted I find it much more comfortable there. This floored Madam and Eve. They tried to argue the social merits of Seattle. I replied by showing them my phone history.

"I've got 21 years invested in my Seattle friends. I've got 5 months invested in Pittsburgh friends. And you tell me—who do I hear from more?"

Eve considered the question and came to the only logical conclusion. "That's a really weird metric, John."

In the otherwise magnificent Carnegie museum in Pittsburgh, there's an exhibit about race. Sadly, predictably, what purports to be thoughtful really just mines the worst of humanity for dramatic effect. I was disappointed.

This wall features quotes from locals about race relations. Which brings us to a woman who really, truly needs to specify antecedents to her pronouns when granting interviews.

bernstein.jpg

priorities

At my favorite cigar shop, they have a giant Jenga set made out of cut 2x4s. What dominoes are to my old Columbus neighborhood, Jenga is to this Pittsburgh haunt. Rules are strictly enforced:

  • Thou shalt use only one hand.
  • Thou shalt touch only one block at a time.
  • Thou shalt touch a maximum of three blocks during one turn. This last rule is a motherfucker. If your first three blocks are stuck, well, you're yanking on one anyway.
I was playing Jenga with Courtney, a sparkly, well-read, adorable Pittsburgh native and Steelers fan with whom I'd hit it off spectacularly. We were well on the way to dateville when it happened.

I cheated.

I had absent-mindedly stopped the stack from falling by touching a second block.

Courtney saw it. "CHEATER!" she shrieked, extending her finger in accusation.

I was at a crossroads, I knew. Yes, I could cop to cheating. Courtney and I would have a nice laugh about it. Then I'd take my future wife out to dinner. We'd have a great "how we met" story for the rest of our lives. Her family and our children would lovingly address my Christmas gifts to "Sleazy McCheats." And eventually, at my funeral, my lovely pearl-haired widow would tearfully say that by going to heaven, I'd cheated even death. Everyone would chuckle warmly, shaking their heads. Oh, that John.

Or...

"I DID NOT EITHER CHEAT!"

"YES YOU DID! YOU TOUCHED THIS BLOCK RIGHT HERE WITH THAT FINGER RIGHT THERE!"

Earl was there, selling out his gender. "You totally cheated, man."

"SEE?!" Courtney whirled at me. Caught, I had no choice.

"I DID NOT EITHER FUCKING CHEAT AND FUCK YOU, EARL."

And thus did I have dinner solo that night. "He ate meatloaf alone and watched an old Simpsons episode" is a decent eulogy, too.

butt stuff

My being back in Metamuville is horrible for this site. No social interaction = happy John = crap content.

In Pittsburgh, I instantly had multiple circles of friends that in several ways crushed my 20+ year circle here. I was about to allow that my Seattle friends are predominantly parents and therefore less accessible, but then I remembered Stephanie in Pittsburgh saying "Let's go out for an adult evening! We'll get a babysitter."

Specifically, I remember thinking, "I have never heard that sentence in my life."

People in Pittsburgh were curious about why I would consider leaving Seattle for a city with no ocean, no mountains, worse weather, worse jobs, and—unbefuckinglievably—fewer days of sun. And I was never really able to explain it to their satisfaction. No matter what angle I used to explain the social repression here, no matter how many colorful metaphors I found for Seattle people having their heads intractably shoved up their own asses, they were confused.

"But you're such a nice guy!" I heard more than once.

"Immaterial. I am not the problem there."

Once, I was chatting with a pastor (something that would never happen in Seattle) who'd befriended me (also something that would never happen in Seattle. I'll stop saying that, but you should mentally place it after every phrase that follows). He was explaining his faith, and I was explaining my lack of same. It was all very cordial, and we genuinely liked one another—despite his not understanding where I think good and evil come from and my not understanding why he thinks they come from an invisible, mind-reading zombie-Jew in the sky. We had a spirited conversation, and soon it drifted into football, food, and Seattle.

"What's the racial situation there?" asked the pastor, a black man.

I considered the question. I thought about d'Andre's assessment that in Seattle, even the brothers are whiney white guys. I thought about the squabbles I've had with young Seattle blacks who'd corrected me on what white people think and feel. I thought about how I had an integrated circle of friends the moment I set foot in Pittsburgh, and how I'd felt the sudden shock of missing that more than I'd even known. But how to explain all this to the pastor?

"Well, I'll tell you one thing," I said. "This conversation would never happen there."

"Why's that?"

"Because white and blacks ignore one another like they do everyone else. Because this level of trust between strangers does not happen there. Hell, this level of trust between friends seldom happens there. But mostly, it's because no one cares. People aren't remotely curious about things not up their own butt. To ask that sort of question, you have to think outside the butt."

And yes, I told that whole story just to share my perfected metaphor.


interactive left

I've had several questions about the second Pittsburgh left, so here's an interactive explanation. You need to go straight toward that YMCA building and make a left on Pawlowna.

My first time, I had zero idea what to do and made the leap of faith.

i got yer pittsburgh left, right here

Distinguished Stank Troll CJ had warned me about Pittsburgh lefts, and sure enough, I found them extraordinarily useful.

But there was another kind of left that drove me insane. The "Oh My God, They Can't Possibly Expect Me to Understand This" left.

For instance, you need to go across this bridge. What do you do? I just about plotzed when I was sitting at this light.

left.PNG

Answer: you turn left, then right at this "no left turn" intersection.

I've jumped off cliffs that took less courage than this next left. Do you see it?

pittsburgh left 2a.JPG

Of course you don't see it. That's because it's both invisible and subterranean. Your path would be like this.

pittsburgh left 2aa.jpg

The red dots indicate where the other picture was taken.

pittsburgh left 2b.JPG

• • •

Katrina visited me in Pittsburgh, and Uber was driving us around when she did a double-take.

"Holy crap," said Katrina as we went through a five-way intersection. "We just crossed the intersection of 6th St and 6th St. That's...insane."

"That's Pittsburgh," said the Uber guy. "If you can drive it here, you can drive it anywhere."

older woman

I recently made a date with a woman 7 years my senior. As I am decrepit, this makes her clinically dead. Pony up the credit, critics. I'm looking at you, Katrina.

We ran into one another sometime between when the date was made and when the date was to occur. That's when I noticed her fancy ankle bracelet. The kind handed out by the courts. It turns out she'd recently been arrested for her fourth DUI. Under house arrest, she was "at work" in the bar in which we were drinking.

"Yeah. So. I'm out," I said, or a cowardly euphemism to that effect. I think I went with "visiting friends in Spokane."

But I still want credit.

responsibility

I'm still stewing about the plight of the kid in yesterday's post. Her situation seems hopeless, thanks to parents who exhibit, nay, proudly flaunt several mental disorders.

I adore this kid and feel achingly sad for her. At 14, she's been hospitalized for a complete nervous breakdown brought on by the chaos all around her. She has no adults upon whom she can rely for anything but vitriol and more chaos. I feel like I should do something. That's impulse #1.

Impulse #2 is protecting myself. To involve myself in this probably hopeless cause is to invite that vitriol and chaos into my carefully calm, hermetically sealed life. I'm sure that sounds selfish. I'm sure it is selfish.

So the question weighing me down here is: is it one's moral responsibility to incur third-degree burns while pulling someone else out of a burning wreck? Especially when that wreck will just follow her around and consume her again and again, forever? Okay, so it's not a perfect metaphor.

Man, I miss Pittsburgh.

the magic fleece

Years ago, a buddy who works at Google gave me a Google-branded fleece jacket. As garments go, it's cheap. Holes developed in both pockets pretty much immediately, and any use results in my maneuvering keys and change around its interior, homing in on the pockets, like seals to a breathing hole.

Capture.PNGI'd worn it in Seattle for years, and no one cared. No one here is impressed by someone who presumably works at Google. You can't swing a dead cat without its corpse donning a free jacket branded by Google, Microsoft or Amazon.

Then I wore it in Pittsburgh.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old, panting.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old, panting.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old, panting.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old, panting.

One nice thing about the consistency of the behavior: I got to copy and paste.

It didn't take me long to learn to abuse the magic fleece. I started texting my Google buddy. "Holy shit, thank you. Seriously. Thank. You."

"Really?" was his incredulous response to my reports. Deep down, I know he was looking at flights. On DuckDuckGo.

I spent yesterday in Bremerton, WA. Although most of you would probably consider it Seattle, it is not. It's a blue-collar navy town, and, well, as I went out the door, my hand went from my favorite fleece to the magic one. Just in case.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old at the auto dealership.

"YES. YES, I MOST CERTAINLY DO," I said, feigning sheepishness by digging my toe into the ground coquettishly.

And so we talked for a good 40 minutes. Around minute 39, she mentioned her husband. I looked at her left hand again. Nope, still no ring.

Angry about her deception, I excused myself. Some people have no fuckin' integrity.

the lingering smell of stupid crap

I was still basking in watching Ohio State beat Michigan when my sister said an odd thing.

"I always feel like I should apologize to you for your childhood, John," she said soberly.

The topic had been football, so I was taken aback. I would have vastly preferred talking about the future national champions to revisiting my childhood, frankly. But she was clearly feeling something. Not sure what to make of it, I let her.

To be sure, my childhood was lousy. It was brief. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I was 14. My dad and older siblings had already made themselves scarce, but they somehow found it within themselves to make themselves scarcer. Scarcest of all was the eldest sister, 11 years my senior, who didn't speak to Mom from the moment she was first legally allowed that opportunity. Since I lived with Mom, that meant my sister and I didn't have much of a relationship. Indeed, I have very few childhood memories of her. Perhaps that's why we get along in adulthood.

Driving home from the game, I watched her grapple with guilt. She asked only a couple of questions about what that time was like. I talked about Mom's protracted physical, emotional and financial miseries. I also talked about my paying the bills at 14, suing contractors at 15, wiping mom's butt at 16. That last part pretty much finished my sister off. I stopped talking. We stared ahead in silence for a while.

"It's amazing how important stupid crap seems when you're 25," she said angrily.

Three months later, I still don't know exactly what was on her mind or, more importantly, why now, all these decades hence. I'm grateful it's not on mine.

acclimatization

I'm still in Pittsburgh mode—or more accurately, socially healthy mode—which means that I smile at strangers and attempt to make conversation. Just as when I arrived in Seattle 20 years ago, things quickly get awkward. It's hard to describe the discomfort such efforts cause here. The locals clearly regard social grace as some adjective, but which? Rude? Invasive? Creepy? Mentally ill? I'm not sure. But my attempts to engage another human being are comically unwelcome, and said human being invariably evokes the cat in the Pepe LePew cartoons. So desperate to flee, they can think of nothing else. 1331421440_1.jpg There's a perverse satisfaction in torturing the deserving just by acting like a normal person.

There are a lot of things I'd like to say to Seahawks instafans today. But no treatise about brand-new jersies, about fans celebrating themselves instead of the team, or about their team's appalling lack of class in both victory and, now, defeat really sums up my feelings quite like this simple statistic:

The Super Bowl had higher TV ratings in Pittsburgh than in Seattle.

trophy shot

A scant 2610 miles and 77 hours after I left Pittsburgh, I pulled into Metamuville. Not much of note happened during the trip, which I suppose is a very good thing. Unannounced, I stopped in Minneapolis for an hour to have a cigar with Dirt Glazowski. From his perspective, he was watching TV inside with his buddy when he saw a dog taking a crap in his lawn.

"There's a motherfuckin' dog taking a crap in my lawn!" he snarled to his friend. "And some asshole is takin' a picture of it!" He was putting on shoes to pummel the photographer when he recognized Dex. "Oh. Of course."

the gentlemen

I'm preparing for my drive back to Seattle, so this is perhaps my last moment to mention something I saw during my drive here. Somewhere in rural Wisconsin is a "gentlemen's club" named Cruisin' Chubbys.

Points for honesty, I suppose. About a mile from my Pittsburgh pad is Cheerleaders Gentlemen's Club. I reckon there's only two things wrong with that name.

butt

As I entered the humidor, I held the door open for two clergymen. They were at the cigar bar for a bible study group that sometimes meets in the back. We chatted about smokes for a bit, and then we heard a roar of laughter from outside. I exited.

"What happened?" I said as the chortle continued to work its way around the room. I had missed the following exchange:

Risa: "Two priests and John walk into a humidor..."

Liz: "...and three atheists walk out."

gay bash

I entered the downscale cigar bar and was greeted by the usual gang, plus one.

"This is Dina," someone said. I introduced myself to Dina, seated next to me and visiting Pittsburgh for the day. In her mid-30s, pretty, and teaching her way through a doctoral program, she was also quite clearly gay. Clear to me, anyway. I might not have the most finely honed gaydar in Seattle, but I have to guess I'm close to taking that honor in Pittsburgh. We chatted about teaching, and she challenged me to a game of Jenga. Seeing this, Earl muscled his way into the game.

The three of us played, and I got a front-row seat to Earl obtusely hitting on a lesbian. Not content to merely flirt, he made one impossibly crude come-on after another. Slits and fisting both worked their way into the conversation, each followed by Earl's cackling laughter. "Just the tip!" he said as she pulled out a Jenga tile. "I bet that's not the first time you've heard that, HAR HAR HAR."

"It's a good thing you added the hars," I said. "Otherwise we wouldn't have known to laugh."

And on it went, him getting more and more brazen, her shooting me one helpless look after another. I wanted to apologize for my gender, but then again, screw that. I'm not owning Earl's stupidity. When she left, he demanded a hug. As he planted his mouth on hers in a surprise goodbye kiss, she looked at me, wide-eyed and horrified.

E-fucking-gad.

oh come, let's sing ohio's praise

I almost went to Columbus to watch the championship game, and now I rather wish I had. 40 fires set on campus, mass tear-gassing, armored personnel carriers....I have to stop. I'm getting all homesick.

My favorite of the stories: students broke into the dormant stadium and tore down the goal post. These are my people.

fog warning

I went on antibiotics and now I'm upright, more or less, mostly more. Although I'm relieved that the pneumonia is behind me, I'm more relieved that my Friends marathon lasted only 4.5 interminable, jackhammer-kind-of-repetitive seasons.

Why Friends? Because I was incapable of watching anything that required thought or following a plot. Thanks to low blood oxygen, my brain was hypoxic. I couldn't concentrate or pay attention. More than once I found myself staring at the Netflix timeout screen for an hour or more. Work emails came in, but I couldn't really understand all of them. I was so concerned about my impairment that I had Amy sit in on a meeting Friday because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to field any questions.

After the antibiotics kicked in, so did my brain. I went to bed stupid, and thoughts jolted me awake at 3am. A lot of thoughts. Pent-up thoughts, perhaps. My brain was back and the crushing stupidity, gone. I felt a wave of gratitude, along with a newfound empathy for those people who stand up in the middle of plays at games.

pneumonic device

Sorry about the lack of updates, folks. I've got pneumonia. Energy (and anecdotes) are in short supply. Hopefully, I'll be upright again soon. Actually, hopefully, I'll die of this and won't have to do the drive back to Seattle.

black sheep

My sister chided me at the Ohio State/Michigan game. "I cannot believe you're booing the Michigan band," she said, face in hands.

"The only reason I'm booing is because I don't have any 9-volt batteries," I explained.

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."

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."

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