I was leaving Patsy’s office yesterday when I hopped in the car, feeling pretty good, a rare occurrence after therapy. I hadn’t cried, or said fuck, or told some long, sordid story about Adele or voodoo, it was a good visit, actually, and switched the channel on the radio to 90s music and “Stay (I Missed You)” came on. You know the 90s pop song by Lisa Loeb? “You say, I only hear what I want to. And you say, I talk so all the time. So.” And just like that I was transported back to my childhood bedroom, with it’s dolphin trinkets, underwater-themed bedspread, and matching curtains. And there, on my dresser, was my radio with the ability to record.
The year was 1994, and I had been waiting for what felt like literal years for one of the pop stations out of Kansas City to play Lisa Loeb and her love song to the guy she desperately missed. Or did he miss her? Or was it all a big misunderstanding? Was he kind of an asshole? Now that I think about it yeah, he was kind of an asshole, but I didn’t get that back then. Back then, I wanted to hear those first few chords, run to my radio and hit the play/record button to get as much as the song as I could onto the mix tape that I was making for my boyfriend who had just moved because his dad was in the Army and life was horribly unfair. We were soulmates.
And then it happened. The DJ said the magic words, “Here’s Lisa Loeb…” and I ran over, hit the buttons and well, it worked. Just. Like. Magic.
The rest of the mix tape had a lot of Wilson Phillips on it, but the second side, first song, was this one and man, I was way serious about him hearing it.
As the song played, and the radio recorded, I danced around my room like I was Lisa Loeb, and I only hear what I want to, and a camera was following me around as I hopped up in down in relative torment with my super cute glasses in a little black dress. It was all too magical. Then I stopped the recording at just the right time. After the last chord, before the DJs annoying voice came back on.
Two weeks later the tape was finished and I sent it to him, all the way across the country in Virginia. Two weeks after that he wrote me and said he liked the tape, but that we should break up. It hurt. A lot. Because I missed him. Then I cried. I slammed my door. I cursed Lisa Loeb while I screamed:
“So I, I turned the radio on/I turned the radio up/And this woman was singing my song/Lovers in love and the other’s run away/Lover is crying ’cause the other won’t stay…”
While my mom banged on my door to keep it down in there.
Yeah. Middle school was fucking harsh. But at least I had Lisa Loeb.
I’ve been working on a post about the series of tornadoes that broke out when we were living in Missouri between the summer of 2011 and 2012, including the Joplin Tornado, of which my father-in-law’s house was destroyed (he survived), and the Leap Day Tornado that hit our town in 2012. We were living in Branson, Missouri at the time and “The Strip” was hit pretty hard. Jerimiah’s office was destroyed, and he had to work from home for a few months before they found a new office in town, but everyone was okay. Shaken up, but okay. I’ve been working on the post since way back in February because I wanted to post it on Leap Day, because you know, topical and what not. But I couldn’t finish it. I was wading through the pictures I took in Joplin the day after, when Jerimiah and I went to help his dad fish his belongings out of the rubble, and I was so sad looking at those pictures that I was having a hard time writing words to accompany them. I was determined to finish the post this week, then yesterday I woke up to the news in Nashville.
Shit, you guys.
When a tornado season starts out like this, it isn’t good. I’ll just say that. And coming from a Kansas girl, a girl born and raised in The Great Plains, or Tornado Alley, whatever you want to call it, this is some severe, severe weather, and it won’t be going out like a lamb. We need to be prepared. We need to take this seriously. We can’t keep standing in the front yard, drinking our ranch dressing straight from the bottle, saying, “Ope, why’d the wind stop so suddenly?” We need to heed those warnings we all know, but have ignored for so long.
There really is no way for you to combat an F3 like the one in Nashville, which ripped through a heavily-populated part of town, or an F5 like in Joplin. There just isn’t. When it comes, it comes and you just have to hold on and hope you make it out. But the world is certainly more technologically advanced now than it was when I was a kid, and there aren’t many more excuses we can use. Listen to the warnings. Stay indoors. Don’t go out when the sky turns that black and gray color. If the wind suddenly stops and it gets eerily quiet, then it seems like a train comes out of nowhere, it isn’t a damn train, y’all. It’s a twister. Get out of your lawn chair, throw your Bud Light to the wind, and run into your basement. This is serious.
I know this seems like a duh to a lot of you, but the hard truth is, there are places in Tornado Alley where the belief is 100% “It won’t happen here.” In fact, I grew up with that notion. In Leavenworth they think because they are “in a valley” that the tornado won’t come to them. In truth it has been years since a big twister has struck there, and it does seem to strike close to them, all around them, in fact, but when I was a kid it never hit Leavenworth proper. Which meant there were a lot of lawn chair watchers. People making fun of people like my mom and me, who spent many a summer nights camped out in my closet (the most interior space, without windows) with a weather radio and a box of Legos for distraction. That’s the behavior of people who have lived through a twister (of which my mom did as a child). She knows how to take it seriously. But so many don’t, and it scares the shit out of me.
When Jerimiah and I were still dating, way, way back in 2003 a tornado hit Lawrence, Kansas. We were living in Lawrence at the time, and he was working at Blockbuster Video on 27th Street. It was the evening, about 7:00 pm, when I drove some dinner up to him at work. I was working at Best Buy, and had gotten off early and decided to treat him. The weather wasn’t looking great, but then again, it was Kansas, in May. The weather never looks great on warm, May nights in Kansas. That’s the peak of the season. When I walked in, I found him standing in the middle of the store with the District Manager. They were discussing whether or not to close up shop. Apparently a line of storms was headed for us and Blockbusters, if you may recall, were nothing but rows and rows of windows so you could look inside and see the rows and rows of projectiles lining the shelves. Jerimiah was at odds with his manager, who wanted to close. Jerimiah, a born and bred Kansas boy himself, was all “Nah, this will pass.” I mean it’s Lawrence, for fuck’s sake. A half a mile or so from the University of Kansas campus. Mother Nature knows better than to mess with the Jayhawks. Turns out he was wrong, terribly wrong.
About half an hour later the DM, Jerimiah, about three employees, and dumb me who stuck around to see how it would play out, were running toward the Baskin Robbins next door in a wind so hard and fast it took my breath away. Then suddenly it stopped. All was still. The sky was as black as I’d ever seen it, and it was quiet. Eerily quiet. The cars at the busy intersection had all stopped. The wind was gone. The rain and chatter, all silenced. We all stood in our tracks halfway between Blockbuster and Baskin Robbins and looked up toward the sky. Just then the sound came. They say it sounds like a freight train, y’all because IT SOUNDS LIKE A FREIGHT TRAIN. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, this funnel appeared. It was all black, just like the sky, so it was hard to see. I was mesmerized. Then suddenly someone pushed me from behind and yelled, “Run!” So I did.
I spent the next ten minutes in the freezer of the Baskin Robbins with the Blockbuster DM, two Baskin Robbins employees, and the rest of the Blockbuster crew (all of us kids). Jerimiah stood out in the ice cream parlor waiting and watching. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. And you certainly won’t find me in any lawn chair because of it.
The twister did hit campus that night. It also took out several apartment complexes, but to the best of my knowledge no one was killed. Injured, but not killed. It was only an F2, we were lucky. Below is the public info statement from the National Weather Service in Topeka. We were in Douglas County on 27th and Wakarusa.
This is how it happens when it happens. It happens in a lot of places, varying degree of damage and winds. Varying numbers on the Fujita scale. A twister can go from an F0 to an F3 pretty quickly. But some people just don’t respect the catastrophic ability, because when you are from a place where this happens all season long, you become numb to it. Until you aren’t anymore.
I don’t know why I’m sharing this story today. I think I was so messed up in my head when I heard about Nashville yesterday, that it brought up all this other stuff. These old memories, and I wondered if many of you don’t know how tornadoes work, why and when they come, that sort of thing. So I guess I’m trying to inform. To plead with you all to take it seriously. Because you just never know.
As for Nashville and Central Tennessee, I hope everyone is okay. Shaken, I know, but in tact for the most part. As I write this they have confirmed 19 deaths, there may be more to come. There usually is. I’m partial to the City of Nashville, to Central Tennessee. It’s one of our favorite places, and it’s a place that has brought my family and friends and me great joy in our lives. I know they will be okay, eventually, but not without help. Because of this I am adding some links to the bottom for ways you can help.
Maybe one day I will share that Leap Day Tornado story, or talk more about the Joplin tornado, but today just stay safe out there, y’all. And help if you can.
A few days ago I shared the story of my mom’s friend, Ruthie. She was one heck of a lady and I’m just now beginning to understand how lessons she taught me in my childhood have impacted who I am today. But Ruthie was married for 63 years to Ronnie, and though they were as different as full-flavored Pepsi and Diet Pepsi, they worked in a way that put others in awe. The day I shared about Ruthie (it took me months to write about her) I learned that Ronnie had passed away, and like after Ruth’s passing, the memories of Ronnie came flooding back, one in particular that I needed to share today.
It’s important to know that I didn’t have a father growing up. I have a father, as most of us do, but he was not part of my life. I was the product of a decade-long affair. My father had a wife, and three kids at home, so when I came along he ran scared away from my mother, and by association me. So as a child my idea of a father was loosely based on the other men in my life. On my sisters’ husbands, my Uncle Arthur (whose passing a few years ago still stings too much to deal with) and Ronnie Logan, Ruth’s husband and one of my mom’s closest friends.
Much like Ruth, I came to know Ronnie when he was much older. Ronnie was born in 1932 and I was born in 1981, so he was already an “old man” by the time I was 10 years old. Although 49 isn’t “old” to me anymore, back then it seemed like we were worlds apart. And we would have been, had he not been such a kind, gentle, lovely soul who invested in the people in his family, and for Ronnie his “family” was large. It stretched well beyond his sisters, and wife, and children. It stretched into the community, into his church life, and into my family as well.
When I was 10 years old, my mom and I were at home one early, summer evening and we got a frantic telephone call. I’m not sure who was on the other end. It could have been Ruthie, it could have been Debbie, one of their daughters and one of my mom’s best friends. But someone from the Logan family urgently called to tell my mother that Ronnie had been shot.
Leavenworth is a small town. And Ronnie and Ruth were well-known, though possibly for different reasons. Ronnie owned a drywall business, and he and his sons worked hard everyday hanging drywall, and painting, and doing whatever else they needed to do to get by. They weren’t rich, but any stretch of the imagination, but Ronnie was well-liked and respected in the community. So it came as a shock to hear that Ronnie had been shot by someone, and in the alley behind his own home, which was on the corner of a very busy intersection near downtown Leavenworth.
My mother and I hopped into her 1972 Dodge, and raced over to the house. By the time we got there, Ronnie was already at the hospital, but a few of the Logan clan were handing out in the back yard, discussing what had happened with the police. Ronnie’s truck was still parked, half in the grass, half in the alleyway, and his door was open. I walked as close as I could to the truck, wondering, scared, what Ronnie was going through at that moment. Worried, more than anything, that I would never see him again. There was blood on the bench seat. Tempers were high with the Logans. Emotions palpable. Neighbors were standing in the alley in disbelief in what they had just witnessed. The warm, summer sun was casting streaks of orange and pink down on the house at the corner of Fourth and Pine.
I was just a kid, so I can’t be too sure about the logistics of what had happened, though more was said in front of me than probably should have been said. I remember it was a neighbor who’d shot him. I remember the neighbor was drunked-up, and mad at no one in particular, just drunk and angry and waving a gun around. I remember there was a dog, maybe Ronnie was attacked by the dog first, maybe there was yelling, though it’s hard for me to imagine Ronnie yelling at anyone. I don’t remember the logistics, just the fear. If this could happen to Ronnie, this could happen to anyone in our community.
Ronnie ended up being fine. He was shot in the leg or arm, or some part of him that required very little medical attention, and he was in and then back out of the hospital. The neighbor was released from jail. I don’t know if Ronnie pressed charges, but I know the neighbor moved shortly after. One night, a few weeks later I was sitting on the front porch, listening to Ronnie discuss the incident with a friend, when he said something I never thought I’d hear someone who had just been shot say. He said, “Of course I forgive him.” My mouth went agape. How could you forgive someone who had shot you? I thought maybe I misheard. I went inside and told my mom. She smiled and said, “Well of course Ronnie forgives him. Ruthie, well, that’s another story. Go on outside and play now, no more eavesdropping.” And so I did.
Now here I am, 28 years later, still wondering about the capacity of forgiveness. Wondering how Ronnie was able to do it, and so quickly. Still in awe of the capacity of his humility and his heart. His generosity and his humbleness. Wishing I had inherited that from a man that wasn’t my father, but was the closest thing I ever had to one.
We hear a lot these days about people who have worked hard and made their way in this world, reaching back and helping others along. It’s a noble thing, and there is no nobler a man I can think of from my childhood, than Ronnie Logan. Ronnie was reaching back years ago, pulling up the downtrodden, helping in some small way, whether with a ride to wherever they were going, or a couple bucks for gas. What little Ronnie had, he came by honestly, and he was happy to share. Just as he was happy to share the word of God, always willing to pray for or with you, but always allowing you to come to your own conclusions in the end.
Ronnie’s steadfast, generous nature gave him another gift we should let his life teach us, the gift of forgiveness. He forgave the people who had wronged him in his life. He forgave the people who didn’t take his advice, the people he had to pick up, time and time again. And most importantly he forgave himself for mistakes that he made, and he learned to make amends. A feat I wish we all had the power to do.
Thank you, Ronnie for teaching me all that you did. I hope that wherever you are now, that you are happy, healthy, and playing the guitar for all those people you’ve helped, loved, and forgiven. Play on!
When I was about five years old, I desperately wanted to be a ballerina. I watched a cartoon, I can’t recall now, where a little girl was dancing with her dog. She was in a pink tutu and ballet slippers, and she was spinning around and around in a circle. My grandfather was alive at the time and living in our small apartment with us. He was fighting terminal cancer, though I didn’t know what that meant, and he was wheel-chair bound, with one arm already lost to the disease.
He sat, day in and day out, in his wheel chair, or in the big, brown chair in our living room with the wooden arms. He sat and he watched television, whatever was on, though he had his favorites, like Price is Right. My mom would cook breakfast, and lunch, and dinner for my grandpa and me. She would wheel him into the kitchen to eat. She would wheel him into the bathroom, move him from the chair to the toilet. She would bathe him. My sister and my mother would carry him up the flight of stairs from our basement apartment to get fresh air on nice days. I would watch television with him. That was my job.
The day we watched the spinning girl and her loyal dog, I jumped up and pretended to be her. I danced around my grandfather, whose toothless grin gave me the confidence to spin on my toes. He clapped his hands and told me I should be a ballerina. I agreed with a smile.
Then in the spring my grandfather died.
In the summer my neighbor said I was too fat to be a ballerina.
In the fall, we moved to a new house, I started kindergarten, and forgot about my dream.
I’ve done that from time to time. Forgotten about a dream. A goal. I’ve let people tell me what I’m capable of, and what I am not. I’ve been doing it again, as of late. Letting strangers, mostly, tell me what I am capable of and what I am not. What my limits of talent are. Where my lane is, and how I should best stay in it. We fall back into old patterns. We do what feels most comfortable. What we learned as children. How we learned to cope.
Last time I visited Leavenworth, I went through my mom’s photo albums and took pictures of photos that I wanted to remember, either because they sparked a memory, or because they were too absurd to pass up. I’ve been going through these old pictures, which is sometimes scary because I never know what memories will surface from them. Like, will it be a good memory? Will it teach me about who I am? Or will it make me cringe? If a picture from my childhood makes me cringe, I simply jot that feeling down so I remember to talk to my therapist about it. She just loves a good challenge. Anyway, today I looking for a very specific picture for another post I am working on, when I came across this photo instead:
Yeah, I know, there’s a lot going on here. Let me break it down for you. My best guess on the year is 1987. That would make me about six-years-old, my older sister Belinda about sixteen-years-old maybe seventeen, depending on whether this photo was taken before or after July 10th. That’s a crapshoot. It’s obviously summer. I’m not holding any poppers, or snakes, or smoke balls, but that doesn’t mean much. Still could have been near the 4th of July.
My sister is the one standing next to me by the picnic table and the girl on the lounge, I think, is Shane. Shane was one of my sister’s friends, and aside from knowing that Shane drove a truck and had a boyfriend who once showed up at our house in the middle of the night to ask my mom if she would hold $10,000 cash for him for a few days, I don’t remember much about her. I do remember holding the $10,000 cash in my hands when my mom called me into the utility closet, closed the door, and asked me if I wanted to hold $10,000 cash to see what it felt like. I think I may have buried my lead.
My mom has to be the one taking the picture. I know this because suddenly I’m all too aware of what I’m looking at. I’m looking at the one and only time we ever attempted to go camping.
It had to have been Shane’s idea. Had to have been. Or maybe something Shane and my sister cooked up together while they were drinking Boone’s Farm, and chain smoking Marlboro Lights in the Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot after my sister got off work. Why my mom and I were brought along, I can’t say. Shane was the only one with a working vehicle, unless this was that short time when my sister had that big land yacht with the dead-body trunk she bought off an old guy for $200. Who knows.
But I do remember with clarity now, that there was a tent. And a BBQ grill. We ate hot dogs. We sat in tall, itchy grass. Or probably just I did, maybe on a blanket, the adults had chairs. I remember my mom dousing me with that bottle of OFF on the table there, and her being overly anxious about the trash bag hanging off the table because of bears. I remember that my sister told her we didn’t have bears in Kansas. But she wasn’t convinced. And neither was I.
The orange bottle on the table is either lighter fluid or suntan lotion. Pretty sure that’s a bottle of drinking water on the seat of the table. Or maybe bathing water. Or washing your hands water. Or pouring over your privates after you peed water. It was probably for all of that.
At some point when I asked if I could swim in the lake, everyone yelled “NO!” all at once. I was allowed, however, to walk into the lake for a little bit, up to my ankles maybe? And then later my mother told me about one time when Belinda almost drowned in a lake and OMIGOD! That’s why I was terrified of water and a full-grown adult before I was taught how to swim. This explains so much.
Later, after the tent was set up, the campfire was roaring, and the stars were out and beautiful, I drifted off to sleep in a little pallet in the tent, only to be violently shaken awake about 2:00 am and told that we had to go home. Everyone had had enough of camping and my sister needed her own bed and toilet.
Yep, that was the one time my family attempted camping when I was a child. I’d call it a success.
Some of you may remember, from my earlier days, that I did a regular little ditty called, Thoughts in the Car Line wherein I waxed intellectual on a number of topics while I waited to pick Jackson up from school. At the beginning of my years in the car line I was always very early so I could be up near the front, which is in fact, a total waste of time. BUT, I did get a lot of writing and reading done in those times, and they will always be fond memories for me. Still confused? Let me show you a bit of what I mean with some classic Thoughts in the Car Line Moments:
I think Jon Bon Jovi lived on more than a prayer. Cocaine, y’all. He lived on cocaine.
I bet I’d run more efficiently on cocaine.
We’d all run more efficiently on cocaine.
I’m not sure if the family behind me doesn’t enjoy my dancing or if they just hate Dwight Yoakam in general.
There are men out here “surveying”. I keep yelling, “Hey, why don’t y’all come survey this” and then I pull my shirt down really low, but they just don’t seem interested. It must be the sports bra.
This guy looks like he might be named Eddie.
Maybe I shouldn’t harass men?
I dunno. I’m so conflicted y’all. It’s like, cocaine is bad, but then it’s good.
What if Mumford doesn’t even have any sons and it’s all a damn lie?
I used to like Eddie Murphy. I thought he made a great donkey, but then he got all high and mighty and I was kind of like, you know what Eddie Murphy, I’m done with you. But I still like Donkey.
Butyraceous: Of the nature of resembling or containing butter. New stage name. Missy “Butyraceous” Goodnight. One woman act. I roll in butter while I scream “Suck it, Paula Dean!” Tickets can be purchased at Food Lion for $5 and one pound of butter.
I’m not a scientist, but I feel what I lack in common sense I make up for by drinking copious amounts of wine.
“I have a dancer’s body. In the trunk.” That would be a good bumper sticker.
Some parents suck. Some are great. And some listen to Rod Stewart.
It snowed in North Carolina the other day and my mom called from Kansas to tell me that she saw Dale Earnhardt and he said not to drive on the roads, and I didn’t know if she meant that she saw the ghost of Dale Earnhardt or if she ran into Jr. at the Walmarts and he told her to tell me that the roads in North Carolina were bad, but I decided it could go either way, and everyone knows you should always trust a ghost who wants to share traffic advisories.
How many raisins can I fit into my mouth?
32. I fit 32 raisins in my mouth.
I ate Jackson’s snack. It was raisins.
If you’ve never bought a comforter from TJ Maxx are you even an adult?
As you can see, they get pretty intense. Luckily for you guys, I got to Jackson’s school a bit early to pick him up from Robotics practice the other day, and I created a new list of thoughts in the car line. No need to thank me, your kindness to each other is thanks enough.
Thoughts in the Car Line:
Does Santa drink egg nog every morning? Like does he just get up and dab a little bit in his coffee, then think, you know what I’m just gonna take a little sip straight out the bottle, then he takes a little nip and before he knows it he drank a bottle of egg nog? Then an hour later, when he’s laying over the toilet feeling like he bout to vomit, Mrs. Clause walks in and she’s all, “Sonofabitch, Kris, I told you not to drink a whole bottle of egg nog again. Christ, you need to be at the shop in a tight fifteen!” And he can’t look up from the commode, so he just makes little noises to himself and his white hair starts to fall from around his face, kinda dip into the water a little bit. Then she starts to get all sad that he lacks willpower and self-control, so she sits on her old, creaky knees on the heated bathroom tile next to him, and starts to rub his back in a half-hearted attempt to burp him, while he cries into the toilet bowl, and she remembers the man in college named Damien Demancus who offered her a life of luxury on his boat docked at the Margaritaville in Key West, and she sighs a little to herself. Is that, umm, probably what happens?
I’ve never been to Key West. I want to go, but I’m also scared to go. Cause I have been to Miami. And I have been to the Bahamas. And I sort of feel like Key West is a mixture of the two places. And I didn’t like either of them THAT much. So…
I think I just tooted, but like inside my intestines. That was weird.
There’s a Margarittaville in Tennessee. It’s over yonder by the Dollywood. I’m sure there is more than one Margarittaville in Tennessee. I just haven’t seen them all. But there are people who have. And those people are named Ricky. Not Richard. Ricky.
Do elves brush their teeth? All that sugar! I hope so.
One time on a cruise ship, we were at sea for two days because we were going from Puerto Rico to some island way the fuck out there and I had nothing to do so I went to the casino and taught myself how to play roulette. Then I taught Jackson how to play. He was in second grade. Rules are lax in the ocean. We won $700. Then we lost $900. Then I got pissed off, cause I was obviously drunk, and I threw my gin and tonic at Red #32 because I thought it was evil. But I think Jackson learned a valuable lesson: Always go find Daddy when Mommy forces him into a casino in second grade.
“We can’t go on together, with suspicious miiiiiinds…”
I wonder if they’d let me into Tyler Perry Studios? Worth a shot. Helllller!
Do I need to make banners for the robotics competition? And bring a megaphone? Or is it not that kinda deal? What about a charcuterie board? There’s always time for a charcuterie board.
Jackson can now play Jingle Bells on his trumpet. But I can play Mary Had a Little Lamb on a touchtone phone, so, who’s the real musician?
I’m trying to remember a teacher I had at The University of Kansas a long time ago, but I keep getting jammed up. I can see the classroom. It’s one of those basement classrooms that old universities have. It was in Wescoe Hall, across from the library, where I spent too many hours walking the stacks. Listening to the birds who’d come in through, what, an open window? I can remember the stacks. I can remember the moldy classroom. And the birds. I can even remember the kid who sat behind me. People thought he was cool because he’d been a walk-on to the KU football team that year. Of course this was back when KU football was consistently on the highlight reel for “Horrible pass of the week” or “Too many sacks in a row”. Back then, when you said “Kansas football” you weren’t talking about the Jayhawks.
So it’s the particulars I’m jammed up on. I guess. I know she was young, not a professor. That she was blond, and that she had large breasts. I’m not so sure about the blond, but the breasts, those I’m sure about. They were so large, that at 18, I felt both inadequate and sufficiently aroused. This was before I knew how to buy a good bra, based on my size and shape. This was back before areas of my brain and body had fully developed. Back before I could recognize deliberate flirtation. Her areas were fully developed.
The red-headed walk-on yammered on a lot. Spoke in small sentences about things not found on the syllabus. I wondered how many times he’d been hit in the head. He’d yammer on about video games and metaphysical anomalies. He wrote short stories about aliens. He picked his nose sometimes, when he thought no one was looking. I wrote bad poetry. The kind of poetry that 18-year-old girls with virtually no life skills or relatable experience, write about. I hadn’t yet had my heart broken. He’d yammer. I’d write, and steal glances at the teacher’s breasts. She’s ask him to stop. Tell him to leave it for another time. He’d smile. She’d smile. Or at least I assume she smiled. I still can’t picture her face.
The birds in the stacks would flutter above my head. Jump from bookshelf to bookshelf. Was someone feeding them, I wonder now. Did they routinely flush them out? I wonder about the birds a lot, the birds stuck in the stacks.
Maybe it was the breasts. The reason I can’t remember her face. Can’t remember much of it. If I close my eyes, think back to my first semester, that’s all I can remember. The stacks. The red-headed walk-on. The moldy classroom at Wescoe Hall. The birds.
I wonder, now, what happened to the red-headed walk-on. How birds got into the stacks. If they’d lay eggs in nests above the harsh overhead lighting. I wonder, now, how the babies learned to fly, surrounded by bookshelves, and dumb freshmen looking for Kafka. I wonder why I fought so hard and so long against higher education. I wonder, now, who my teacher was in that moldy classroom at Wescoe Hall.
When I was a kid my mom cleaned houses for a living. One of the houses she cleaned belonged to a husband and wife named Mr. and Mrs. Tinsley. The Tinsleys were very retired, and lived in a large house in Leavenworth, near the public library. I’m not sure what they had done in their working lives, but Mr. Tinsley, who sat in his home office all day, smoking cigars, and swiveling around in an old wooden rolling chair, had the mark of a lawyer, or maybe a CPA. He wore suspenders, and used a cane, on the rare occasions that I saw him get up from his desk.
Mrs. Tinsley could have been a school teacher, or a stay-at-home mom, or even a piano instructor. Maybe she was all those things. Maybe she was none of those things, I just don’t know, I don’t remember ever asking. What I do remember is sitting on the steps that connected the family room with the second level, while my mom vacuumed the upstairs bedrooms, and watching Jeopardy with Mrs. Tinsley, while she sat across the room in a recliner, and offered me fistfuls of those hard strawberry candies, with the gooey centers.
Mrs. Tinsely loved Bill Clinton. Mr. Tinsley hated him. Mrs. Tinsley crouched doilies and read magazines. Mr. Tinsely yelled at the Meals on Wheels delivery woman, and wrote my mother checks every Tuesday afternoon for her services.
Their house was in a row of houses on their street that were all very old. Some had started to fall down, while others were being bought and remodeled. Their house was somewhere in the middle, in dire need of updating, but still working for the two of them. Regardless, they had a formal living room, which I always associated with “rich people,” and I liked to spend a lot of time sitting in the “fancy” chairs in there, reading teeny-bopper magazines, and watching out the big picture window.
Their house even had a large wrap-around porch on the front, with a couple of rocking chairs. Somedays I would pass the two hours or so rocking on their porch. At the end of the street there was a house that had been turned into a retirement home. Or maybe it was less of a retirement home, and more of a nursing home. It had a lot of people in wheel chairs, sitting outside when we pulled up, and in the exact same spot when we left. I often wondered who pushed them out there, and who brought them back in. I hoped someone brought them back in.
It was an interesting dichotomy, trying to figure out how those people at the end of the street, sitting alone all day in wheelchairs in the grass, who were relatively the same age as The Tinsleys, managed to find themselves there, rather than living in their own large home, with a woman who cleaned it for them once a week, and people who delivered their food everyday. It didn’t add up to me, and if I’m being honest, it still doesn’t. Though it’s certainly more sad now, because I’m older and I know what I know. Still…
One of the last times I remember going to The Tinsleys’ my mom asked me to take a bag of trash out back for her. I didn’t usually do much helping when she cleaned houses, but every once in awhile she would ask me to take some trash out, or wipe down a mirror or something menial, particularly if I was following her around being annoying. This day I had the bag of trash in my hand and I walked out the back door, down a few steps, and out the back of the fence to the alley where the trash cans sat. I heaved the trash bag over the fence, into the can, when something shiny caught my eye.
Down the alley was an older woman, with a walker, slowly making her way toward me. She was dressed in sweats, and a shirt that looked like it had been worn for days. She was saying something but I couldn’t understand her. The more I waited, the closer she came, the closer she got to me, I realized she was calling for something, or someone. I wasn’t sure what to do so I sort of just froze at the fence, nervously looking back at the Tinsley’s house, hoping my mom would come out. Before she got any closer to me a woman dressed in scrubs came running down the alley after the woman with the walker. She ran up behind the woman, and put her hand on her shoulder. This scared the woman, and the nurse assured her she was okay, then told her they needed to go back in. The nurse saw me then, and told me that the woman was looking for her missing cat. I was immediately upset for her, and told the nurse that I hadn’t seen a cat, but that I would keep an eye out. The nurse just smiled, and waved my suggestion away, “There’s no cat,” she said, and she put her arm around the woman and they walked slowly back to the house at the end of the street.
Later that night when I told my mom what I had seen, she told me that some people forget things when they get older. What the nurse likely meant, was that the woman was looking for a cat she had once had, probably years and years ago, back when she lived in her own house. This was hard for me to understand at the time, but now, of course, I do.
I’m not sure what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Tinsley, I have a faint memory of my mother telling me of their passing at some point in my teen years, but I always wondered about them. And I’ve often wondered about the woman in the alley searching for her lost cat. I suppose I always will, because if you ask me, we all have our cats we are looking for. And we always will.
Today has been a busy day, and it isn’t even lunch time yet! Whew! We were up at ’em at 5:30 this morning to take Mama to the airport. (She landed safely in Kansas City at 10:00 am), then we got back to Tucker, dropped Jackson off to school, and Jerimiah and I had a nice, quiet breakfast at Matthews Cafeteria. Then it was back to school to participate in Field Day. Well, participate is a stretch, as we were just spectators. It was also the first Field Day that I didn’t volunteer to work! It was amazing to be able to move from activity to activity and not be stuck at a damn sno-cone machine, or in this case, the apple slices station! But bless the mommies and daddies who did it!
It was a fun, old-fashioned field day too! Complete with a balloon pop (of which Jerimiah and I did end up working because it takes all hands on deck for that one), a three-legged race, a relay race, and the parachute! Oh the parachute! As soon as we walked into the cafeteria to watch them with the parachute I was transported. All the way back to my elementary days at Anthony Elementary School. Back, back, way back, to Mr. Hendee and the bouncing parachute. It was just what I needed to see.
Jackson’s class was steady in second place for all the activities (there are three fifth grade classes), and when the kids were telling us that was okay, the Spanish teacher at the school overheard and whispered to Jerimiah and me, “Well this class may have taken second, but they are always FIRST in behavior. Man, this is a good class!” We beamed, cause yeah, we saw it with our own eyes. I told Jerimiah later that I felt lucky to have Jackson in such a good class, and he laughed and reminded me that it wasn’t luck. It was hard work in parenting to get our kid into the classes that he is in. It’s kinda neat having a kiddo that all the teachers want in their class. (Excuse me while I pat us on the back…) And honestly, there are a lot of “Jacksons” in his class. That’s why they took second so many times. They went slow and steady. Even in the three-legged race, when some of the other classes had kids sorta pulling their partners along, Jackson’s class was slow and measured. “This is what happens when you have a group of perfectionists,” Jackson’s teacher whispered to us. It was super cute to watch.
Anyhoo, here are some pics of the morning. It was a bit chilly down here, so some of the activities (most of them) were inside because y’all, Georgia kids cannot handle 50 degree temps! 🙂
My mom told me a story the other day about the time I was almost hit by a reckless driver. She was dropping me off at school. I must have been a freshman, or maybe it was early sophomore year. That’s when she was still driving me to school everyday, rather than me hitching rides with friends. The street that runs perpendicular to my high school had a stop sign right across from the entrance I used to go into school everyday. So my mom would sort of roll up to the stop sign, and stop long enough for me to hop out, then she’d make sure I got safely across the street before she turned right and headed to work. The whole drop-off probably took less than 30 seconds, on average, because my mom drove an ugly, beat-up 1984 Chevy Nova, with one door that was primed, but not painted. It wasn’t ideal for my teenage psyche to be dropped off each day, so I tried my best to not be seen by anyone.
The street that I had to cross, 10th Avenue, was pretty busy in the morning. 10th Avenue is one of the main arteries that runs through Leavenworth, and it leads all the way from the city limits, to the road that leads to the entrance of Fort Leavenworth. So one can imagine that every school day, in a high school with roughly 1,200 students, it was clogged up a bit there. Sometimes my mom would be waiting to turn long after I had already crossed the street.
This particular day she did her slow roll to a stop. There were several cars behind us, as there usually were, and I hopped out. The road was busy like normal, so I had to stand for a few seconds before I could safely cross. There was no crossing guard at this section of 10th Avenue. Eventually there was a break in the traffic and my mom watched me step out into the street to cross. That’s when a car from the line behind her jetted out of line, cut her off, and turned right, crossing my path at the moment I was starting to take my leave of the corner. I apparently stepped back, a little bewildered, while my mom screamed obscenities. Then I went on about my day.
I do not remember this moment. To be clear when she asked me about it, I was confused. I have no recollection of ever being “almost hit” at high school. I guess it just wasn’t a big deal to me. But to my mother, to any mother, it would be the sort of heart-sinking feeling you don’t forget.
It’s funny what we remember and what we don’t. What sticks with us. What teaches us lessons. I’ve always been careful when crossing a street. And I’ve crossed a lot of streets alone, even as a child. And maybe there was a reason. Maybe this was the reason. I just don’t know.
Sunday mornings were never easy for me. Especially pre-Jackson. Pre-Jackson I always worked on Sunday mornings, because pre-Jackson I lacked a college education, and that meant I had jobs that paid little, involved menial work, and often times required me to work weekends, because if you work in the hospitality industry, or retail, and you don’t have kids guess what you work? Yeah, the shit shifts. In the restaurant business Sunday mornings blow for a multitude of reasons, hungover people calling out, late cooks, dirty store from the slackers that worked Saturday night close, but mainly it’s the uppity after-church patrons who have the capacity, and oftentimes the desire, to screw up your morning with a negative, hateful attitude. What?! Aren’t people filled with joy and grace after just having been filled by the good Lord’s word? You’d think, but nah. They saved up all their patience and restraint while they were at church, which means their brunch server gets the shaft. But this post isn’t about those assholes, this post is about a Sunday morning shift that I didn’t mind working, at Buster’s Video/Laundromat.
Another video store, Missy, are you serious? Dead. I have worked at three video stores in my life. 1. Home Video the place with the, ahem, “backroom” that I told y’all about last week. 2. Blockbuster, which I promise will get its own post one day, and 3. Buster’s Video/Laundromat, which was an obvious knock-off of Blockbuster, which is kinda why I liked it so much, expcept for that one teensy difference, the laundromat attached to it. (Well, technically I worked at four video stores, because I worked for both corporate Blockbuster and a franchise, and although they were the same video store brand, they were way different. Christ, Missy, stay on topic!)
Buster’s Video/Laundromat was unique because of the laundromat situation, but also because Buster’s Video was independently owned and operated. There were three of them (that I remember) in Southern Missouri, between Ozark and Hollister, and I worked at the one in Hollister, Missouri, which is a little town right across Lake Taneycomo, a stone’s throw away from Branson. And as I might have mentioned it was the only one that had a laundromat attached to it. And yes, it was attached. And yes, I was responsible for running the laundromat and the video store at the same time. And yes, the laundromat was called the “Ye Old Wash House” and yes, it was as fucking bizarre as it sounds. I even found some pics because I know sometimes y’all think I am a lying sack of shit. These are all current pics, so it wasn’t this nice when I worked there, but in the first one you can see the whole building. Buster’s was right under the “Parking in Back” sign, that was the front door of the video store, and yeah I parked in the back which was a gravel pit, and that is where the Buster Patrons parked too.
This second pic shows some major updating since the time I worked there, which was around 2004. And when I saw the pics of the inside I was AMAZED because not much has changed, and really, it should have by now.
Oh, you know what, I take that back. It didn’t have video games back then. So there you go. Same white folding tables, though. Same “Homestyle Washers” (though the sign is new), same old blue chairs and tile floor, and same old quarter machine that I wanted to kill. Literally. Strangle it. (The more I look at the pics, the more I assume they busted down the Buster’s walls and made the “Ye Old Wash House” bigger and more badass. Which really is what they should have done from the get-go because how Buster’s made any money, I will never know. But they made enough to pay me $8/hour, so whateves.
So why did I love this place on Sunday mornings? Because no one comes to the damn video store on Sunday mornings, and even less people do their laundry on Sunday mornings. People sleep in, I guess. Or maybe go to church. But I had to be there at nine a.m. every Sunday to open both the laundromat and the video store, and sometimes, if I was very lucky, I wouldn’t talk to a soul until noon. And since my shift ended 2:00 pm, it was the best of best days.
I would walk through slowly, usually with my fresh Diet Coke straight from the vending machine. I would close all the dryer doors, and make sure the lights were on to signify all was ready to rock and roll. I would turn the televisions on, stock the shelves with the rental returns from the night before, and pick an awesome movie to start my day with. Usually an oldie but a goodie like “Empire Records” or anything with Janeane Garofalo. It was a small store, the laundromat took up most of the room in the building, but it did have games, movies, and miscelanious video store items like posters, candy, and lighters. You always need lighters.
Then I would sit my ass on the stool behind the counter and wait, and watch my movie, and drink my Diet Coke, and sometimes order food for delivery from the pizza place around the corner, or sometimes just eat something out of the vending machine. On cold days in the winter, I would take some quarters out of the “In case people lose quarters in the vending machine” drawer, and turn on a couple of dryers and sit on the old blue chairs and watch the television in there. The same movie played on all the televisions, which I was often reminded of by the “manager” when he would stop in and I would have an R-rated movie playing. “Misssssy,” he’d slither, “Family-friendly.” Oh right. I’d run over and stick Toy Story in.
I don’t remember too much about the manager, other than he was sort of weird and sounded like a snake when he talked. But, I mean, he was a forty-something who managed a small chain of video stores in the Ozarks, so… I’m being nice here.
So there you have it. Buster’s Video and Laundromat. Or to be sure, Buster’s Video and Ye Old Wash House Laundromat, but you know, same, same.
On the corner of Delaware and Fifth Streets in my hometown sits an old, red brick building. The Leavenworth Historical Society calls this building an example of “early 20th Century Revival and Colonial Revival design,” built at the turn of the 20th century. The locals just call it “The Corner Pharmacy.” My mom and I would go down to The Corner Pharmacy when I was a kid, on Saturday afternoons if she had a little change in her pocket, for a grilled cheese sandwich—and if we were lucky—a milkshake to boot. Sometimes we’d stop in for a late breakfast after particularly early basketball games at Nettie Hartnett Elementary. The grill was always piping hot on those Saturdays, with what seemed like a hundred fried egg sandwiches lined up in a row. The Corner Pharmacy was a pharmacy, but it was so much more than that. It was one of the last true relics of small-town prairie life, in a Kansas town that was quickly learning that if it was going to stay relevant, some things would need to change.
If you ask anyone born and raised in Leavenworth they can tell you countless stories about The Corner Pharmacy. The friendly Pharmacist, old whats-his-name, his wife, and teenage son. It was all very Olive Kitteridge from the outside. At some point he’d opened up the diner on the east side of the building and started flipping those fried egg sandwiches for waiting customers. They can tell you, some in painstaking detail, about the black pier frames, and single bay windows extending above the parapet, the wide entablature and decorative cornice, but if you ask what was above The Corner Pharmacy, who sat behind those old bay windows, they might not know. But I do.
In the spring of 1987, I was just finishing up my first year of kindergarten. I had a pretty good handle on my numbers, all the way up past 100. You can ask my mom, I recited them to her ad nauseam while she cleaned the floors, or dusted the wooden window sills, or mowed the yard with the old green push mower. I would walk behind her, believing she could hear me, believing she wanted to hear me, and recite all I had learned. I could count by ones, twos, fives, or tens. Lady’s choice. I was proud. I stuck my chest out, though it still didn’t poke out further than my round belly. I could read. I could write. I was even doing math, a fact that amazed my mother who often said math was her worst subject.
That spring, however, my mother was given an opportunity to finish something she had given up on a long time before, her high school education. On the second floor of 429 Delaware, directly over The Corner Pharmacy, a class was being assembled. A GED class. One for women and men. For those who received assistance from the state, from the government. For people who wanted to better their lives and the lives of their children. And my mom nervoulsy signed up.
I don’t know the logistics of the class. I don’t remember who taught it, or how many times we had to go downtown to the stuffy, carpeted room above The Corner Pharmacy, but I do remember my mother’s scowled face, as she sat on a metal chair, next to another woman, and did math calculations that made no sense to me. I remember sitting under the plastic and metal folding tables, while she worked out the equations, often thrusting her hands below the table to count on her fingers, while the teacher reminded her to try to do “mental math.” I’d count my numbers in my head every time the teacher said that. Hoping to send some of those important numbers telepathically to my mom.
Of course, my mom wasn’t doing kindergarten math. She was doing high school algebra, which if I am being honest, might as well been a foreign language to her, and years later to me. But in that hot room, with a laundry basket of used toys to keep me occupied, and those big bay windows to peer out of, I didn’t know any of that then. I just knew that every time my mother got frustrated, every time she closed the book in aggravation, every time she told the teacher she just couldn’t do it, someone, either the teacher or some other student in the room, would assure her that she could.
Some days I couldn’t stand to watch her make her way through her workbook, so I would sit in those bay windows and watch the traffic below. I would wonder what a “GED” was, whether or not I would have to take the same test, whether or not I would be good at math. I would keep quiet, hold my bladder the whole time, and never interrupt my mother. I may not have understood what was happening, or the gravity of the situation. The way that this had the potential to change my mother’s life. Our lives. But I knew it was important to her, even if I didn’t know or couldn’t remember why. The only thing I do remember, with great certainty, is the day the brown envelope came in the mail. The way she opened it up, smiled down at that piece of paper, said she had done it, she had passed her test, then promptly hid the certificate in her top drawer. Never to be discussed again.
My mom made a decision that day in the spring of 1987, and while all that hard work, those calculations, and late nights may have only amounted to a dollar more an hour at her job, it did wonders for me. It did wonders for my commitment to education, the value I know it can bring to your life. I’m a first-generation college graduate, but I am not a first-generation high school graduate, thanks in part, to the room behind the bay windows on top of The Corner Pharmacy.
You remember the part of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where Charlie and Mr. Wonka shoot out through the roof of the candy factory? Of course you do! It was such a great part of the movie. We just found out that Charlie now owns all of that great factory and is a rich man, which is wonderful since his grandpa is too sick to work (even though he has no problem singing and dancing). Anyway, I have always loved that part of the movie, and I have always been afraid a real elevator will do that one day. Like, for real. I am terrified of elevators, and it’s only part claustrophobia. The other part is the Great Glass Elevator. It’s like how I won’t take baths because I think the bottom will open up and suck me under like in Nightmare on Elm Street, you know what I mean?
I’ve been so scared of getting stuck in an elevator my whole life, that the ONE time it did happen, I totally and completely lost my shit. And I am ashamed to say, several people saw me lose it.
So there we were, at a hotel in Myrtle Beach (I know, I know, I’ve learned my lesson. We don’t go to Dirty Myrtle anymore, but not because of this incident, because eww…) Anyway, there we were outside in the hot tub, the sun had set and a storm blew in. I was there with Jerimiah, Jackson, and my best friend Rachel and her whole family. There was eight of us total. We all decided to head back to our room, which was on like the 10th floor, and because of the storm, everyone in the resort was headed back to their rooms too. Which made the elevator area very crowded. So I got a little nervous, because again, I am afraid of being trapped in an elevator, especially with people I don’t know. So when the first one came down and all the people in my crew loaded up in it, with ALL the other people standing there waiting, I passed. I just couldn’t risk it. I said I would meet them up there, and I stayed put to wait for the second one. Jerimiah decided to stay with me, which ended up being a good thing.
The next elevator came down and dinged. It opened up and no one was on it, so we hopped on. The door closed and I was feeling okay. Then the power flickered in the elevator and it just sort of stopped its humming. You know, that humming that elevators have. At first I thought maybe the door was about to open. Like maybe someone had hit the button after the door closed, but nothing happened. The elevator didn’t move. The door didn’t open. It just sat there. I looked at Jerimiah and he immediately stepped into action.
“It’s probably just a kink,” he said, then he hit the open door button. When nothing happened I completely and totally lost my shit. I immediately started sweating. I grabbed his hand and told him we were gonna die in this elevator, that the air was going to be sucked out of it. Dramatic? Yep. PS… this was right after that cruise ship elevator mishap where those people were crushed and blood came spewing out of the elevator like a real-life damn horror movie. Google it. I can’t even add a link here because it stresses me out too much to recall.
Anyway, my glorious husband was all, “It’s okay.” And he hit the “help” button. We heard some rustling and cracking from the other end and I screamed, assuming that we were headed straight up at break-neck speed, to crash through the roof of the hotel and be shot to our deaths into the ocean. Dear Baby Jesus, don’t let me die at Dirty Myrtle.
Then I did what any sane person would do, I started pounding my fists on the door yelling for someone to help. Turns out, there were a bunch of people on the outside of the elevator. Turns out we had never left the ground. Turns out the hotel knew it was stuck and had already called the maintenance guy over. Turns out this happened from time to time at this hotel.
Meanwhile, J was communicating via the little phone with the fire department, who also knew because they had been alerted, and they told him not to worry, we were in no danger. I was sweating though my clothes. Should I strip? I should strip my bathing suit off, right? I wanted to know. “Dear God, no, just calm down,” as he kept touched my arm and told me we were okay. I just couldn’t believe him in that moment because I was steady waiting to blast the fuck off.
Turned out though, we were okay. We didn’t die in an elevator in Dirty Myrtle. And I am 90% sure I have shared this story with y’all before, but that is how traumatic it was. And I’m in a hotel this week, and every time I am in one I remember this incident. So there’s that. You are like my therapist today. Thanks, y’all. Thanks.
I’ve been working on an essay about some of the jobs I’ve had in my life, and I was sort of, well, cracking myself up (as I do a lot, while my family looks at me in awe and shakes their heads). I was cracking up because I was thinking about that one time I worked at a family-owned video store that had a “backroom.” Yeah, for real. For those of you who aren’t privy, a “backroom” at a video store is where they kept the “adult” movies. And no, I don’t mean the Bowling for Columbine documentary, I mean porn. Straight up, hard-core porn. We had soft-core too, cause we weren’t animals. We were the only one in town with a “backroom,” and we were popular. Even when Blockbuster came to town, our little video store survived at least a decade or two more because, well, people are gross. (Side note: I worked at Blockbuster when the little video store folded. That’s where I was re-introduced to Jerimiah and we started dating. He was the store manager, at 19. It obviously wasn’t that hard to work at Blockbuster Video.)
Anyway, this little video store was called, “Home Video” and it sat on the corner of Cherokee and 6th Streets, right across from the Water Department, and (when I was there) right below a nightclub that favored a fog machine on Friday nights. Which meant every Friday at 10:00 pm, an hour before we closed, the store would fill up with “fog” and people would scream thinking there was a fire and exit the backroom in a hurry. Then I’d tell them it was probably because God knew what they were doing. Hehe.
Anyway, there were a lot of, oh let’s call them “quirks” about Home Video that made it a unique, albeit bizarre, experience for the two or so years I worked there, which was just after high school, while I was at the local community college. One of them were the owners themselves, Del and Linda. One of the oldest employees filled me in fast about old Del and Linda. Apparently, they were first-cousins from Minnesota. Or Michigan? Or maybe Milwaukee? Either way, they were definitely cousins, and definitly had to sign a letter when they got married that said they wouldn’t have kids. Then they promptly had two kids. Two boys. And by the time I met them they were grown, one was married with kids of his own, and while he was weird (that’s being kind) he was normal-ish. The other one, well, I felt really sorry for him. He sort of crept around downtown Leavenworth. He lived alone in an apartment near the store, but his parents didn’t actually let him work there. I think he was probably on social security, or disability. I don’t know what was wrong with him, but he had trouble walking and standing up straight. But he was my favorite of the two. He was polite and quiet. He just liked to stop in a talk to me sometimes, and I was okay with that. I would even let him shelve movies if he wanted. He’s the one that told me about the other weird thing: Linda’s Disney collection.
Apparently, Linda had a locked room in the basement that was full of Disney products. First release VHS tapes, cardboard cut-outs, special promotional items. And this, he told me one day, was a secret. It was also her retirement plan. She was going to sell off all her stuff and get an RV and travel around the country with Del and their giant Great Danes (of which she allowed to roam free in the store from time to time.) Weird shit, y’all. So of course after that, I made it my life’s ambition to see this “Disney room” in the basement, and would often make up reasons to go down there. I knew that they had cameras EVERYWHERE, they had too. Too many freaks in and out of the backroom, so I was always cautious. I’d have to stock up the candy, or look for more shrink wrap. I’d usually do it when it was just Del and me in the store. One day I finally found the extra room and tried the knob, but it was locked. I wasn’t getting into that bitch.
Usually I was the only one at the store when I worked there, because I worked Sunday mornings, when they had church, and Thursday nights, which weren’t all that busy. But I was also in charge of employees from time to time, like on Fridays and Saturdays when there would have to be at least two of us working the night shift. It was always fun when it was with someone I liked, like my friend Toni. We had a great time working the weekends together. Mainly we watched the video in the backroom, from the closed circuit tv we had under the front desk. That tv had a one-way microphone attached to it, so that we could tell the people back there that we were closing in five minutes. Or, more usually, we could click the microphone on, which made a loud clicking noise, then say in a low, slow voice, “God knows you’re here.”
I watched a lot of people I knew come in and out of that backroom. Teachers, noted members of the communities, friend’s family members and parents. They would spot me from the outside, as the store was all windows on one side, and sort of try to spelunk into the room without making eye contact with me. But alas, I was the one who had to check them out, remember the whole I was there alone thing, so I it was pointless. They would look around when they came out of the backroom, waiting for someone else to come to the front, pretending like they were browsing the “New Releases” until eventually they gave up and walked up. I’d say something smart ass like, “Castaway just won’t do it for you, huh? Not a Tom Hanks fan?” And they would squirm and say they have never watched “one of these movies,” then I’d say, “That’s not what your account shows…” I was kind of a bitch, but I mean, it was menial work for 6.00/hr, I had to get my kicks too, you know?
Of course there were times when I was embarrassed. Like when we’d get a new shipment of backroom movies, and Del and I would stand at the counter on a Friday afternoon and take the tapes out of the boxes, put them in their black rental cases, and shrink wrap the VERY explicit boxes they came in. Linda had nothing to do with the ordering or displaying of the backroom, she was an “outta sight, outta mind” kinda Christian. So it fell on Del and me. We’d both stand there, in relative silence, while Toy Story or Harry Potter played on the television screens in the store, and wrap titles like, “Facial Blasts from the Past,” “Buttman’s Big Titty Adventure,” “Boobsville Caberat: Where the Boys Aren’t,” and “Dumb-ass Fucking Sluts” or what it “Dumb, Ass-Fucking Sluts”? I just don’t remember. I can go on. Want me to go on? No? Okay.
So there it is, my Home Video days. It wasn’t too long, but you know, it was long enough for me to get some good quality fun in, while meeting some unique people, learning about shame (I was researching shame like Brene and I didn’t even know it! Haha!) and to make me realize how gross it all was. So thanks, Home Video. Thanks Del and Linda. Thanks to Lee Anne, who hooked me up with her job when she adandoned me for Boston. Thanks Toni, for the fun times. Thanks Jen and Roger for spending so much time at Home Video it was like you worked there, even though you didn’t. We had some fun.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the library of my youth. I’ve been remembering all the time I spent there, on the long, blue sectional couch that wrapped all the way around the front lobby of the library, from the children’s section to the foyer. I’ve been remembering the glass blocks that encircled the Check-Out desk, where I’d tell the librarian that I forgot my card again, or when I had to call my mom for a ride home when I didn’t have a quarter, or when there was a book I needed help getting off the high shelf. I spent a lot of time at the Leavenworth Public Library as a kid. My middle school was a block from the library, so sometimes I’d be able to talk my mom into walking to the library after school and hanging for a few hours. The library was the first place I discovered internet. It was where I did my volunteer time for student council, it was the place I found the New York Times, and the Kansas Room, and the pleasure of curling up with a book—that was way too advanced for me—on one of the pink sofas in the back of the library, where adults read the newspapers, and plants and statues stood watch over the weird, curved windows overlooking 4th Street.
When I was a kid there was a ten book limit when you checked out books from the library. This was always hard for me, both because I am an avid reader, and because I suffer from FOMO. What if the ten books I decided on were not as good as I had hoped? What if my mom won’t bring me back for another week? What if I read them all in one day? I was anxious as a kid. The reference section was a good place for me. It had small shelves, easily accessible, and I never had to worry about which book to check out because you couldn’t take any of them home with you. Same with the periodicals. So I spent most of my time thumbing through those sections, with my stack of ten books waiting for me at checkout.
I’m not sure the architecture of the building, but I can see it clearly, it’s black overhang shielding me just enough from the rain on a wet and cold Saturday morning when my mom would swing her 1972 Dodge Cornett into the lot for me to race up and shove my books into the return. There were always plants planted just outside the door, and just inside was a water fountain that I stopped at a number times for a gulp after I had walked the block from East Middle School.
The original public library in Leavenworth, like many other small towns, was built in 1900 from funds donated by Andrew Carnegie. It was a two-story brick and limestone building, originally named the Carnegie Library, and it was, and still is, designated on the state and national registry of historic places. The library of my youth was built in 1987, and when it was brand new it was one of the most unique buildings in our small town.
Not much had changed in the library the last time I visited, but that was maybe ten years ago. There were still the same old blue chairs on the small desks for studying. The same glass blocks around the offices behind the check-out desk, and the same pink chairs in the back. The same plants. The same statues. The same weird, curved windows. And of course, the same smell. That old, musty library smell. I’ve come to love that smell, and as of late, miss it a little.
The library is actually two stories, but most people didn’t know that because most people didn’t venture upstairs. Upstairs was mainly just administrative offices, but once or twice as a kid I’d meander to the elevator, wait for the beep, then head upstairs. It was always quiet up there, always neat as a pin. Always a little dark. It wouldn’t take long for me to become afraid that someone would catch me and I would race back down the stairs on the north side. It always felt like a close call.
The year I spent volunteering at the library, seventh grade I believe, was spent mostly shelving books, living and dying by Dewey Decimal. I also got to spend a bit of time in the kid’s room, where I would sometimes cut out shapes for children to glue together, or help little ones find the book they were looking for. I usually got suckered into a corner by a kids’ book myself, and would lounge on the giant bean bag chairs with a Sesame Street reader until the cart was full of books to be shelved again. Volunteer of the year right there!
It’s a little funny, but I don’t know why I am telling you all this today. I don’t know why over the last few months I have been drawn to old buildings. The ones I knew growing up. Why the places we spent time in as a child, end up being so important to us as adults. And maybe they aren’t. Maybe I’m weird. Either way, sometimes, when I can’t find a comfy spot to read my borrowed book of essays, or I walk into a fancy, new library around my new town, I can’t help but wish I was back in Leavenworth. On one of those musty, pink couches. A secret bag of Doritos in my book bag, and the current copy of the Kansas City Star on my lap. Trying to figure a ride home. An escape from that town. A way out of that life. Maybe that is exactly what the library is for.