Five Year

The Top Five Strangest Things that Happened at My Five Year High School Reunion

Most of these events happened towards the end of the evening, at which point I was extremely intoxicated. They are being recalled to the best of my ability, but I could easily be leaving things out because I don’t remember and/or embellishing them because it all seemed so much bigger in my mind at the time. If you find any of these stories untrue or are upset by them, you can message me via whatever and I will take down whatever has offended you.

1. A boy I went on a couple dates with during the second semester of my senior year came up to me and apologized. “This is the reason I came here tonight,” he said. “I wanted to say I’m sorry for being so awkward with that whole thing senior year. I really gave it my all, I put too much thought into it. I still think about it sometimes, and I just wanted to tell you in person.” This was a nice boy, a cute boy, a boy who paid for my round trip ticket on the R5 and walked me down South Street, a boy who shared a plate of fries with me at Minella’s after my very last Inkwell and drove me home and pulled into my driveway, a boy who never kissed me. The reason it didn’t work out was because I had my heart set on someone else, which I wished I just told him in 2006 and should have told him that night instead of making him wonder.

2. A girl I’ve known since the second grade told me that she thought I was really cool. We were friends at New Eagle Elementary, but didn’t talk that much throughout the rest of our time as students in the same school. She told me, again, with a glass of wine in her hand, that she thought I was really cool. “I follow everything you do on the Internet!” she said. I was extremely flattered but at the same time did not know what to say. Luckily I had about nine drinks in me and simply thanked her, trying to wave it off. “My parents just moved to your neighborhood,” she said. “No way!” I said. “We should hang out when you’re in the city!” “No,” she declined immediately. “I couldn’t. You’re too cool.” This justified my silly dream to become an Internet personality. I told her to stop it, and that wasn’t true, and we exchanged phone numbers. Her good friend was standing next to her, and I said, “Hey, I remember your first day as the new girl at Valley Forge Middle School. Your locker was next to mine, and you were wearing a tye-dyed t-shirt.” She told me I was the first kid who was genuinely nice to her.

3. A boy who I never spoke to in high school but had an English class or two with at Penn State sought me out almost as soon as I got there. He is responsible for my first broken wine glass (there was another later in the evening). The first thing he asked me was “are you still writing?” Which I answered with a shrug. He told me that I had to, and that the nonfiction piece I wrote about Matt Wanetik that was published in Penn State’s litmag was one of his favorite pieces he read as that year’s nonfiction editor. We talked about having non-writer boyfriends and girlfriends, and agreed that they are important to have for a sense of balance, among other reasons.

4. I’m not sure when I started crying or how long it lasted for, but I started thinking about how badly I wished Matt Wanetik was there. Over Thanksgiving, I had broken out the home videos and watched a few clips from my 14th birthday party. Two of the girls who were at that party, who I don’t keep in touch with anymore but are two of the nicest girls I’ve ever known, came up to me immediately and asked me what was wrong. I told them I was crying about Matt, and asked one if she remembered 5th grade and our imaginary boyfriends and the notes we used to pass back and forth in Mrs. Hewittit’s class and how I hated how “Mrs. Allison Wanetik” sounded but if I really wanted to, I could keep me own last name. She remembered. I found Matt’s best friends and hugged them tightly, cried into their shoulders. They told me Matt wouldn’t want me to cry, he’d want me to be having fun. I drunkenly agreed and I think this is where I broke my second wine glass. The next morning I sent both of them Facebook messages and apologized, hoping I didn’t bring them down.

5. Two friends had slept over. In the morning, we gathered in my bed and passed around the bottle of Advil and giggled for about two hours, recalling the weirdest moments, the highlights, the bizarre interactions. We couldn’t believe who was in law school, who was engaged, who looked better than ever (bravo!). However, we did not know where one of our friends ended up. We called and called, no answer. I wrote on the event wall asking if anyone knew where she was, which had us laughing so hard my abs hurt. We met up with a few more friends for brunch. “Did you see our Missing Friend making out with That Boy by the bar?” one asked. Um, no. “Yeah, they left the Field House together after like, twenty minutes.” We found her safe and sound.

***

I was wondering where the following people were: Evan Wattles, Michaeleen Colgan, Shirley Pan, Reggie Pierce, Julia Ries, Julie Watson and Brittany Lee, Scott McCallum, Kristin Toler, Wesley Dunkel, and our resident Stoga celebrity, Mark Herzlich, who has yet to respond to any of my tweets.

I was happiest to see: Robyn Liebman, Natalie Zucchino, Asa Curry, Perry Wang, Sarah Edelson, Adam Blitzer, Jen Satzman.

There was one person I saw but could not remember the name of. That person, I later found out, was Greg Nestle. There was also one high school crush confession. The person is now following his dreams as a rapper. I couldn’t stop smiling about any of it.

One more thing. There is someone who has been jokingly stalking me online since 2005-ish. They have followed me from virgostarr to amsterdam_n to hydeparkblvd. We have had one email interaction and the only clue ever given was that they sat behind me in Mr. Smith’s 10th grade American Literature class. This person goes by the name of “The Giraffe” and writes me hilariously weird comments on my blogs from time to time. This is your time to come forward, Giraffe. Who the hell are you?

I Needed to Get Out of the Apartment

I’ve been trying to find a cafe in Philadelphia that can truly become mine. When Zack and I lived in Graduate Hospital, I liked to go to Good Karma on 22nd and Pine to write my columns. The atmosphere was clean and simple, it wasn’t too loud and the lattes were wonderful. I wasn’t in love with the place, but it worked.

After moving across town, I have tried writing in three different coffee shops within a 5 block radius, but only today, at Bodhi on 2nd and Pine have I felt like I could return here with good creative vibes. Philadelphia Java Company on 2nd and Christian was too loud. Between the chatter and the whirring of the smoothie machine and the dogs and the babies and the Michael Jackson playing (crikey), I had to take my laptop outside in the blistering heat to get anything done. At Red Hook on 4th and Fitzwater, the punk rock music blaring from the speakers was jarring, even with headphones on. Cupcakes were in the same case as the paninis (come on, no one wants pesto-enhanced icing) and the A/C was barely in effect. The view from the window seat (my favorite place to sit, in any cafe) was bleak: the empty storefronts of fabric row glared at me from across the street.

So here I sit, at Bodhi, with a glass of peach green iced tea and a container of locally made strawberry yogurt (Williamsport, PA, holla!). The window seat offers me a foot rest and a view of Headhouse. The other customers here are completely silent, and soft ambient music is playing quietly from above. There is a shelf of local goods for sale, and charcoal sketches on the walls.

I’m not sure if knowing that Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe in State College doesn’t exist anymore makes it more or less easy to find my next “place.” When news spread last summer, I was already in Texas and while devastated, I was glad that I wasn’t in Happy Valley to watch it get torn down book by book. Of all the coffee places in State College- Irving’s, Saint’s, both Starbucks, both Dunkin’s, and more- Webster’s was my favorite cafe for many reasons. First, there was the “third place” state of mind. You could expect the same people- students, professors, locals- in Webster’s at most times of the day. You got to know names and faces of people you might never meet in your typical 11-3 college class schedule. Seth, my favorite long-standing barista, always called me by my first name and said hi when we ran into each other downtown. A beautiful girl with a “g” tattooed on her chest whom I always admired would later become one of my closest friends after making me a dozen yemaya melts. During the “Summer of Women,” Webster’s became a sort of unspoken meeting place in the middle of day. Friends would just congregate there, at the benches across the way and on the stoops next door.

Then there was the food and drink. All local, mostly vegan, and expensive as hell. I don’t even want to know how much of parents’ allotted food budget was spent on gourmet grilled cheeses, which were both the perfect hangover cure AND study aid (I ate them a lot). Their baklava rivaled my Greek cousin’s. Their Mexican hot chocolate was perfection.

Sometime during senior year, I was on my way out the 501 door with my laptop and books when Amber asked me, “What do you do when you go to Webster’s?” Was it to be social or was it to get work done? Depends on who was there, I suppose. I knew Dyanna from Webster’s before I even knew her name, and I don’t think that’s unusual for the typical cafe crowd. But yeah- more work was done at Webster’s than any floor of the library or at my desk, that’s for sure. The crowd, though some called it “hipstery” and “unwelcoming” (which I never understood, as I am not a hipster and consider myself to be very welcoming) encouraged creativity without ever saying a word. I worked on all of my writing there (most of it at the window seat, occasionally looking up to watch the pedestrians on Allen Street) throughout all four years of my undergraduate life.

Sure, the fluorescent lighting was less than superb, every once in awhile someone would “forget” about my breakfast sandwich order and sometimes the place smelled a little musty, like old books (duh) and dirty dishes, but Webster’s served a purpose unlike any other establishment in the most central of downtown State College locations. Even if it wasn’t actually, it felt like the center of Centre County. I attended club meetings there, and professor’s office hours, too.  Zack and I had our first “coffee date” at one of the two-seaters that sat against the wall of the cafe in September of 2007. We routinely did our homework together amongst the sci-fi section in the back.

I miss Webster’s.

It’s 3:40 pm, and Bodhi is suddenly bustling. I’m going to give up my window seat and let someone else enjoy the view.

Bourgeoisie in the Big City

Last night Zack and I attended a dinner party hosted by a well-known Houston socialite. A common small-talk question that came up was: How do you know “C”?

In January, right after Zack moved here, he was invited to a birthday party by a daughter of his mother’s friend who lives in Houston. He met an assortment of people there- all ages, but all upper crust. Fast forward eight months. We’re in line at Central Market, the “bougiest” of all grocery stores in Houston. Imagine a maze, kind of like Ikea, but way more enjoyable. Aisles of cheese, wine, and all natural herbs and grains for sale by the ounce. The produce is to die for. You go in for milk and you come out with six grocery bags. It’s dangerous, really. But anyway, we’re in line and Zack nudges me. “I think I know that woman.” She was at the checkout in front of us. Dark hair with a gray streak, a long emperor-like dress, bangles and rings out the wazoo. Looked about sixty years old but she was very pretty, and wrinkle-free. “You know that woman?” I asked. “Yes,” Zack said. “I think I met her at a party once.” He walks up and taps her on the shoulder, re-introduces himself. “Oh yes, Zack Hartman!” She gushes. “I do remember you, how are you?”

“This is Allison Berger,” Zack says, pulling me forward.

“Alice Bergen,” she confirms.

“No, no,” I say. “Allison Berger.”

We’re holding up the line now and I’m trying to pay for the groceries, which have yet to be bagged. People are staring as I throw the vegetables into paper and plastic and as Zack and “C” exchange phone numbers. She kisses Zack on both cheeks. He looks like a startled child. I wave goodbye to “C.”

“You’re blushing,” I say as we walk to the car.

“Oh god,” he says. “I had no idea what I was doing.”

***

Yesterday Zack called me at work, twice. The first time to tell me the location of his next rotation with Air Liquide, which was big enough news in itself. The second was to tell me that “C” called.

“Who?” I asked. I’m still in a state of shock from earlier.

“C.” Who?

“‘C’, from Central Market. She invited us to a party she’s having tonight. The US ambassador to Spain is going to be there. What am I going to wear? What are we going to bring, wine?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t think she’ll like the Bota Box.”

I posted a Facebook status update for suggestions on what to bring. Steve Lucas said something fun and youthful. Julia Ries suggested wings or beer. Chris Cordell and Cait Yeager both said wine, only in different forms (white in a silver bucket and in a bag, respectively). John Hendrickson thought an exotic fruit or vegetable would be neat, and even gchatted me after the fact to ask me if I thought it was a good idea (no). Last but not least, Charlie Carr suggested orange slices.

Zack got home from work and was bugging out.

“Let’s bring flowers,” I said.

“How about chocolates?” What, was he trying to woo His Excellency?

We ran down the block to the florist that was just about to close for the day. I saw a yellow orchid that was potted and pretty. “Let’s get that.”

“How much for the orchid?” we asked.

“Sixty.”

We paid and left. “Do you really think that orchids cost sixty bucks?”

“That man could have told me any price and I would have believed him. What the hell do I know about flowers?”

Zack was much more calm now that we had something to bring for “C.” We went home, got dressed.

“Should I bring a tie just in case?”

“Are you gonna walk in to her house and then put it on in the bathroom?” I laughed. “No, you’re not.”

“I hate you.” He loves me.

“Are you ready to hang out with the bougey bougey?” Ready as we’ll ever be. I wasn’t nervous, anyway.

***

7:31 pm. We were the first ones there. This was also a topic of discussion. Be on time or fashionably late? We didn’t know if it was a dinner party or not. I opted for on time. Better safe than sorry. We knocked. A maid opened the door in a get up a la Alice from the Brady Bunch. “Let me get Miss ‘C’,” she said.

She walked into the foyer in all her glory. Another emperor dress, massive pearls, and her hair in a low ponytail this time. “C” put the orchid on the front table and thanked us graciously, kissing us on both cheeks. I went the wrong way. So did Zack. Awkward.  She offered us white wine. I tried not to cringe. She offered red. I smiled.

As she floated away into the kitchen I took a look around. It looked like a museum. “I wonder what her estate is worth,” I said to Zack after we left. “You’re terrible,” he said. But really, I didn’t mean it in a morbid way. Every wall was covered in paintings and framed coins and trinkets. Each table was neatly cluttered with tiny boxes and dishes. There were cards and pictures everywhere. From what I could tell, she had about twelve godchildren. Thank you for the presents, “C” one card read. We love you very much.

She returned with the wine in tiny glass cups. There was a knock at the door. Young and old people filed in, all chattering in Spanish. Kisses on both cheeks, as if we were in Spain, not Houston. I watched carefully. Left to right, cheek-wise. I noted this to Zack for next time. Every person who arrived to the party was bilingual. Zack and I looked at each other. Shit. Definitely not bougey enough for this.

We played it cool. I tried to make myself sound really intelligent. People asked me about my field, my career, the places I’ve been. I talked up my trip to five-day trip to Madrid (where the ambassador and his family was from) like I knew all about the city. All I knew was that that parks were pretty, and people go clubbing til 8 a.m.

Everyone there was interesting. There were a few girls from Texas there who were really down to earth and talkative- I appreciated that. I felt like I had to be on my toes at all time, which was a little difficult toward the end of the night when I was on my third glass of wine. I tried to define “blogging” for “C.”

“You know everything!” she exclaimed, then saw my empty glass. “Here, let me get you another.”

“Oh, I think I’m alright.”

Zack interjected. “I’m driving tonight, darling.”

“Well, okay, fine.”

“You’ll be able to define even more things now!” One of the Spaniards said somewhat sarcastically.

Five minutes later “C” got everyone to say a tongue twister in Spanish. One tiger, two tigers, three tigers. No one could do it- not even the ambassador himself.

“I love Allison!” “C” said. “She knows everything. Allison, tell us a tongue twister in English.”

“Sally sells seashells by the seashore!”

“She sells seashells on the seashore,” Zack corrected me.

Fail. I could see my wine mouth in the mirror.

The party was dwindling at this point.  There were only about seven of us in the kitchen. I told “C” how wonderful it had been, how fascinating everyone was. “You must always invite people to your home,” she advised. “Even people you barely know, people you just met. You have to keep things interesting. Don’t let yourself become one of those people who goes out only in groups of couples, where the men talk about football and the women talk about their men. You must have intelligent friends.”

I nodded. We all shuffled out of the kitchen. We said thank you and goodbye, kissed left cheeks, then right.

The Real Hyde Park

You know when you live in a certain area, and that area is known for a specific place or thing but you’ve never experienced those things for yourself? It would be like living in King of Prussia and never shopping at the mall.  Zack lived in State College for eight semesters and one summer session and never once went to the Creamery. Blasphemy, I know.

Saturday night we hung out with our new friend Nick, who took us to two bars I’d never been to, all within a block and a half of our house. First, TC’s. A bar where guys sit outside, parked in a circle of fenced-in chairs. A bar that kind of looks like a rest stop. A bar where you can get $1 well vodka drinks, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. EVERYDAY. A bar where there are scheduled drag shows four nights a week.

We heard clapping coming from inside and rushed into the doorway. It was like everything I had learned in WMST 250 (Sexual Identity Through the Lifespan) had come straight off the Powerpoints and breathed itself into life. The room was comprised of mostly two types of people. Straight women (bachelorette party) and transwomen (some single, some with dates), with the occasional sprinkle of a man. It’s not like I’ve never seen a drag queen or been in a gay bar before. I’ve spent time in Provincetown, Massachusetts, almost every summer since I was born and I did live in Manhattan for a short period of my life. This was different though. The show was small scale, in an intimate setting. There was no cover.

The queens came down from the stage and walked around the audience, lip-syncing to Pink,  Tina Turner and Destiny’s Child. At one point I asked no one, “Is this Beyonce?” The host heard me and replied into the microphone, “Yes honey, yes it is.” I saw one bridesmaid say to the bride, “Oh my god, I’m having so much fun!” as she slipped a dollar bill into the hand of “Ashley Houston”, who knew every breath, sigh and stammer of lady Madonna herself.  Nick, Zack and I were the only people dancing. $1 vodka specials? That’s like…that’s like college, dude.

I saw one transwoman eyeing up Zack. I looked at her.

“What, bitch?”

No, just kidding. I looked at her, then looked at Zack again.

“Is he your boyfriend?” She asked.

“Yes, he is,” I said.

“He’s real cute.”

“Thank you.”

“Y’all make a gorgeous couple.”

And with that, we took the party to the Ripcord, the leather bar next to our apartment. I’m not exaggerating when I saw it’s next to our apartment. We share a parking lot. The only thing dividing our yards is a wooden fence.

I got ID’d for the second time since arriving in Houston. We walked past the dark and mysterious indoor bar, through the movie-watching room (no kidding) and onto the back patio, where there were men of all shapes, sizes and age (some dressed in nothing but two strips of leather). Nick introduced us to some people he knew, and I immediately got the twice-over from the only two women in the bar, who were from an organization called the National Leather Association.

One of the girls pulled me started giving me the shtick about the history, or rather herstory (shades of WMST 250) of leather. “It started getting popular around World War II…”

I nodded along. Fascinating. Another woman told me how nice it was to see another female at the Ripcord, then went on to ask me if I’ve ever had an interest in bondage. She started listing the pros of leather in the bedroom and its place in a healthy sexual relationship. The assless-chapped man behind the bar looked at me and shook his head. I was wearing grey skinny jeans, a black tank top and gold hoops. I thought I looked cool, but apparently not cool. Can’t please everyone, I suppose.

To  be honest, I was under the impression that a leather bar in Texas meant gruff, scary men bearing lots of skin and guns. That wasn’t the case at all. All the people I met were fun and friendly. One even guarded the door when I went to the bathroom. There was no lock.

Next time we’re in State College I’m taking Zack for ice cream.

Nothing New

Sunday I left the apartment at 2 p.m. to attend a Bollywood Aerobics class that was being held at my yoga studio. Yoga is hard- really hard. Especially Hot Hatha, which is slow moving in a room that is roughly 100 degrees. Vinyasa Flow is faster and more temperate, but it is really intense. I pulled two muscles chattarunga-ing today. I’ve been doing this shit for six days now…when is that flexibility thing supposed to kick in? I should be going twice a day with all the free time I have, but yogis like to charge a lot of money for their practices. That is the conundrum of being unemployed. All the free time in the world, but no money to do things. “Bollywood aerobics?” Zack laughed at me. “Yeah,” I said. “I’m gonna get all Slumdog Millionaire on yer ass.”

I got dressed, hopped on my bike, pedaled twenty feet to my left and- what? What is that? A homeless man sleeping on our side stoop? It was easily 85 degrees which feels like 100 in the humidity, and the man was fully dressed in long-sleeved clothing. A duffel bag laid comfortably under his head. A man in a tie and dress pants walked over from across the street, peered at the sleeping man as if to check for signs of life, and shook his head. He did not nudge him, budge him, or call the police. I kept riding along. Apparently the police came by and picked him up shortly after. Gotta get used to these things on Hyde Park Boulevard.

Bollywood aerobics is not something I plan on doing again…Which song did we learn a choreographed dance to? “Jai ho.” I was so, so right.

Earlier in the weekend we had a drink at Griff’s, Houston’s oldest sports bar which offers $1 Lonestars (the shittier version of Pennsylvania’s Yeungling) on Fridays. No complaints, only that I wish I had more friends to drink with. It was towards the end of the night. Zack was spacing out. I was getting sad.  I was falling into my half-drunken womp-fest about not knowing anyone, about not having any friends here and missing my favorite people from school.

“Wait,” Zack said suddenly. “Was that kid wearing a Diner shirt?”

I jumped up to get a get a glance of the boy leaving the bar. Black t-shirt with maroon and white detailing.

“THE DINER!!” I yelled. The kid turned around.

“Hey,” he smiled. “Did you go to Penn State?”

“Yes,” we said. “Did you you?”

“Yes,” he said. We introduced ourselves. “I graduated last year. I live right around the corner from here. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you guys around.”

WE ARE. No, we really are.

Checking In

Yesterday I called the police when I got home from Kroger. Hyde Park and Crocker isn’t exactly the nicest corner on the block. I have been warned not to walk alone after dark- though the crime here most likely will not affect me, I should try to avoid transgendered prostitutes and homeless drug dealers when I can. At night, Zack and I can hear the foot traffic between “South Beach” and “The Ripcord” (the dance club and the leather bar, respectively) every Thursday through Sunday from our bedroom.

If you know me at all you know that I consider myself to be a pretty anxious, overly-worrisome person. I went through a phase a few summers ago after that horrible family-hostage-arson-murder that happened in Connecticut. Every time I heard a rustle or a creak or a door open after midnight I would freak the fuck out. And that was in Devon, Pennsylvania. Now I live in a major city on a drug-hustling corner and the anxiety is rough. The fact that Zack keeps a knife between the mattress and the box spring doesn’t help, surprisingly. We keep the a/c on pretty high (thank god for white noise) but Zack swears he’s heard “hey man, I’m just trying to get my dick wet!” more than once.

So anyway- there is always a strange character or two loitering on the corner. Yesterday I was on my bike (a beautiful Peugeot cruiser we craigslisted from Katy, a suburb) with a giant bag of groceries when I was approaching the corner and heard “Heyy, would you look at dat? Look at you. Look at dat! Mmhmm…” I did not make eye contact. You might think this would be no big deal- and it wouldn’t be in somewhere like Manhattan, where you are surrounded by hundreds of people at every given moment and you probably have some kind of security system hooked up in your apartment building. But it was just me, my bike, the groceries, and the dude. I rode past him, rode past my house. “Wait, girl. Wait! Come back!” I circled the block in the opposite direction and worried that the milk would spoil if I had to bike around too long. The last thing I would want is for the guy to see me walk into my house, or worse walk up to me as I was trying to get my giant cruiser into the front door.

I hid behind the Ripcord til the guy went away. Inside, I got a giant glass of water and texted Zack. “I just got called at for the first time. I thought this was a gay neighborhood? Can you come home now?” He replied, “Are you okay? You know, you can call for police about something like that.”

So I called the police. They came by and called me and asked me to come out of the house. The nice policeman told me he had found the tall, black, blue t-shirted man with stubble that I had described. Would I care to identify him?

And after all of that, I said no. After reflecting on the situation, and standing outside in broad daylight next to the police car, it seemed kind of silly.

“I’m sorry, it’s just, I got freaked out.” I told him meekly. “I just moved here.”

“Do you know what kind of neighborhood this is?”

“Yes…”

“Just be careful. If you want, keep something in your purse.”

“Mace?” I thought to myself.

“A knife,” he said.

Oy.

In other news, I’m trying really hard to make friends. Giada, Rachael, Ina and Sunny of the Food Network aren’t really cutting it, though during these days of unemployment they really inspire me to make delicious meals for dinner. That’s what friends are supposed to do though, right? Inspire, encourage, motivate? Even the Neelys are there for me (though they cook too many pork dishes for my liking.)

I try to talk to girls that look nice everywhere I go. The coffee shop (it ain’t no Webster’s), yoga class, the grocery store. How do I get people to want to be my friend without seeming creepy and weird? Help me.