Friday, October 30, 2009

Candy Goggles

I grew up in a small town neighborhood with blocks upon blocks of houses stacked very close to one another. The blocks were long and narrow, roughly fifteen houses by five houses. This meant one thing to a kid - lots of Halloween candy to be had.

As you can see, there were many houses. We lived on the left side of Whitney Avenue, on Bedford Avenue, and never crossed to the other side. Growing up, Whitney Avenue was the biggest street around - two lanes on each side, and the crosswalk was a few blocks away. The houses on the other side were a little bigger, but that also meant less houses per block.

As kids we started with the cute plastic pumpkins to hold our candy. Getting older, we tried large plastic bags but eventually switched to pillowcases for their durability and size. They held a lot of candy, and always one toothbrush, given out by the dentist around the corner.

We were able to cover a lot of ground especially after it was deemed alright to go out without parental supervision. The first year of just going with friends, the plan was usually to do one side of the neighborhood, come home, dump the current candy stash on the dining room table, then go out to complete the route. We always had a large haul, which lead to my sister and I trading the ones we didn't like - she'd offer up her 3 Musketeers and I'd exchange for Milky Way or something I knew she'd like. I didn't have a candy I didn't like. I wasn't picky.

The first year I ever dared to do the other side of Whitney Avenue was in 7th grade. My friend Kerry lived on that side, so my friend Lisa and I were dropped off there to use it as a starting point. It was strange trying the other side of the road for a change, but we were able to cover some ground. As much as middle school was starting to alter my main focus to girls, I still liked candy.

The one house I'll always remember during that night was very strange. We stood at the end of the walkway staring at the flickering porch light, trying to decide if it was on or off. The cardinal rule was that if the light was off, the people were either out of candy or didn't want to have kids come to their door all night. After mulling it over, we walked up and rang the doorbell.

The door opened to an older man with a dazed look on his face. "Trick or Treat," we said to him, but he still remained confused. "Happy Halloween?" I said. He still looked like he was not sure what was going on. The wrinkles in his forehead shifted, he looked down at his watch and said "Halloween?" then shut the door. We looked at each other, unsure if we were supposed to remain on the step, when the door opened again.

The man was holding a half used six pack of Pepsi. He casually took one off the rings for each of us as he said "One for you... one for you... and one for you." Without saying anything else, he shut the door and the light was definitively shut off. The first rule of Halloween was to not eat anything that was strange or unwrapped. While this was strange, the cans were still sealed, so we gladly all drank them the next day at school lunch.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Worst Motorcycle Gang Member

Each year, the Hamden Middle School drama department put on two performances. The first one was a play and the second one was a musical. None of the musicals were popular or even known. The teacher sent away to a company to receive little known scripts. He was always very passionate about them and soon it became a well known rumor that he was writing them himself.

After working the light board for the play, I decided to try out for the musical. The only problem was that you had to get on the stage and sing. It didn't matter what, you just had to get up there and do it. If only I had the karaoke confidence I had today I wouldn't have gone up there and choked out a soft voiced rendition of "Happy Birthday".

Somehow, I made it into the play. The show was called "Rock and Roll". Not Rock n Roll, but "Rock and Roll," and I was playing the “Stubs,” second of three members of a motorcycle gang. About a week into the audition process, the lead motorcycle gang member, “Hubs,” was promoted to play a bigger role, and I was bumped up to the gang leader.

The costume budget for a public school musical is not exactly hemorrhaging money, so we were asked to bring in a lot of our own costumes. Thankfully, being a 1950’s high school show, many of the characters were able to get by with jeans and t-shirts. Not Hubs, he had to have a black leather jacket, something nobody in my family owned. Thankfully my first girlfriend, Lindsey, was able to procure one for me. It was only at the end of the performance that I noticed it was a woman’s jacket and had belonged to her mother.

There would be three performances of the show in one weekend, Thursday through Saturday. Before the first performance one of the teachers showed me how to draw on realistic looking sideburns using a mascara brush. I thought it looked so cool that for the second performance I drew on an entire beard – a bit much for someone who was supposed to be a high school street tough. It came off realistic enough for someone in the crowd to ask my mother if I grew it out just for the show, to which she replied “No, my 14 year old son did not grow a beard for the musical.”

On the second night my parents and sister brought me congratulations balloons. They had brought the same exact balloons for me on the first night, but they accidentally let go of them. When telling me this, they pointed up and the first balloons were still resting on the ceiling of the auditorium.

I liked being on the stage. Despite wearing a woman's leather jacket, a mascara beard and only being in 4 scenes, it was fun. The musical it self was kind of a blur – it was mainly a rip off of Grease. I was only involved in one song, and it was about French fries. The cast would go in on weekends and double as the crew, building the set and painting backdrops. My high school had an award winning theater department and I was ready to continue on that path. I used my new found love of the theater to earn a role in the high school’s fall performance of Bye, Bye Birdie as one of the adults. It was so much bigger and more time consuming that I eventually dropped out when it began affecting my grades.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The First Week of October

I apologize for not posting last week. It was the first miss of the year and even though it does make my “post every week” New Years Resolution a failure, I still think I’ve come a long way as a blogger. I did not know when I started this project at the beginning of the year how fun it would be and how much positive feedback I would get from friends and family and people I haven’t talked to in a long time.

On October 1st we drove to Connecticut to start our journey. The late drive was to cut two hours off the much bigger drive we would be taking on the next day. Lindy, my parents and I all got into my fathers car and headed to Cleveland. Lindy and I had done the drive the opposite direction last summer after her sisters wedding, but this was going to be around trip on Friday and leaving Monday.

We left at 7:00 am for what should have been a nine hour drive, but it ballooned up to twelve when every interstate in Pennsylvania decided that this would be the morning they closed to one lane to finish any outstanding construction.

Our stop for lunch was supposed to be the Berkey Creamery at Penn State, but our time was so far off, we had to make a stop around noon to eat our lunches. We still made a separate stop for ice cream - after seeing it on the Travel Channel, it was hard to pass up. Even though we were going 20 minutes out of the way to visit, it was really worth it. Lindy got an amazing pumpkin pie flavor while my Dad and I got a mint-chip-raspberry flavor. Mom, of course, got chocolate.

The drive, though long, was okay. My parents brought their portable DVD player and we took turns in the front and back seat in pairs. We introduced them to a few episodes of This American Life, to mixed reactions of enjoyment and sleeping-through-it-ness. Lindy was the fastest of the drivers, and since she did the home stretch, she seemed to make up some time on the Ohio turnpike.

The weekend was a mix of overwhelming family introductions for my parents and early stage pre-wedding planning for us. We showed off the reception hall and watched Meryl and Benjy’s wedding video to scope out the band and some other details. Thankfully, we were able to take a few hours off to hit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an amazing place to visit, if you’re ever in Cleveland.

It never fails that the drive back is always easier. You have more of an idea what you’re getting into and can better gauge your time. It didn’t hurt that there was barely any construction on the eastbound side of the road, so we actually did make it in the predicted nine hours. After a brief stop for dinner, Lindy and I went all the way back to Boston and got ready for the week ahead.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Texas Sized Donut

In March of 2003 my college paid for eleven members of the school newspaper to attend a journalism conference in Seattle, Washington. It was a four day conference that would lead right into the Sunday of Spring Break. I remember almost nothing about the conference itself, but I do remember having a great time in the city. During some of our sightseeing the Pike Place market I saw a chocolate frosted Texas Sized Donut. The same way a munchkin or donut hole fills the middle of a donut, this one was so big that a regular donut would fill the hole. I knew I had to have one.

After eating one of them with a friend or two, I thought that my mother would really get a kick out of this. I purchased another one and got it wrapped up in a to-go box. While preparing to fly back I was very concerned about the donut. During the entire six and a half hour flight from Seattle to Boston I sat with it on my lap, not trusting the overhead compartment during any turbulence.

We landed at 3:00 pm and split up into groups. My friend Laura and I were both heading towards South Station to catch the same train down the eastern seaboard, her to Philadelphia, and me to New Haven. This was the days before the ease of the Silver Line bus to the airport, so to get from Logan to South Station it meant riding the Airport shuttle to the blue line, switching at State Street to the Orange Line and then switching again at Downtown Crossing to the Red Line. To this day there is still no way to connect directly from Red to Blue, so needless to say, it was a complicated trek.

Laura and I entered the South Station concourse at 4:15. We had plenty of time to spare; our train did not depart until 5:25. As I put the donut down on a table my jubilation turned sour. I had been paying such close attention to the pastry and beating the clock that I completely lost track of my suitcase. I got separated from it somewhere along the journey and had no idea where. The logic of the situation began to inflate my mind – three different subway lines, not to mention the stations and the airport. I was about to start freaking out when my cell phone rang.

It was the head of security for the MBTA Blue Line. The good news was they had found my suitcase. The bad news was they were planning on blowing it up. Even while living over a year past the terrorism hyped days which followed 9/11, any abandoned suitcase on a busy means of public transportation would be viewed as a threat. Thankfully, the officials called my number, figuring that any true threat to America would not leave their real name and contact information on the luggage tag.

The man on the phone told me my suitcase was being held at Orient Heights, two stops past the airport. He said there was an office above the tracks and to find him there. Without thinking, I just ran for it. I left my backpack and donut with Laura and told her that I would be back in time. If I wasn't I told her to go ahead without me. There was very little thought put into that plan – what would she do with my things? Would she take them to Philadelphia with her or perhaps throw it out of the train when it stopped in New Haven?

I ran back to the red line, race back to the orange and again to the blue. Each second on the platform felt like 10 minutes. I kept fidgeting and checking my watch as if the trains would arrive faster based on my urgency. When each train pulled up I threw my arms in the air like I had thrown a touchdown. Each transfer made this seem more plausible, despite how quickly time was moving.

I arrived at Orient Heights at 4:46 and bounded up the stairs. The man in the office told me I was very fortunate to be getting the suitcase back and I nodded at a furious pace. There was a screen showing where all the blue line trains were and there was one pulling in to the station. He radioed the conductor and told him to wait for me as I franticly raced down the steps and on to the train.

My heart was beating and I was breathing heavy as I transferred at the same familiar locations one last time. Up and down stairs, taking a long hallway until I finally saw the headlights of my last Red Line train of the night. I made it back to South Station at 5:17, with 8 minutes to spare. I was sweaty and out of breath, but I had my suitcase in tow.

Three hours later I explained the harrowing tale to my mother and presented her with the prize. It was big enough to slice like a cake and we each had a piece. She said it tasted fine, which was code for “not worth the trouble.” Four years later I was back in Seattle with Lindy and we walked by the same bakery. This time I opted to pass on the donut after remembering all the trouble it caused me before.