Updates

Tonight Joanna and I went to Little Baby’s for ice cream. Mimi Gallagher was working the counter, and I had not seen her for many years. I met her when I was 18 and she was 15, and we were at the Trocadero to see a sold-out Hanson show. Mimi still has short platinum blonde hair and twinkly eyes, but she’s 25 now. She looks polished yet punky, and was using a loom to pass the time between customers. This made me reconsider my decision to leave my old loom at my parents house– just yesterday, I scooped up my sewing machine from my bedroom closet and carried it by the arm out to the Jeep. Less Netflix, More Projects 2017. 

“Allison, hi! What’s up?”

“I’m moving to Texas!” I told her. “My house is being packed up a week from today.”

I introduced Joanna to Mimi. “You know Joe Gallagher #1? Mimi is Joe’s sister…”

Mimi is Joe’s sister and Joe is Maddie’s boyfriend and Maddie is Vanessa’s old co-worker and Vanessa is one of Joanna’s best friends.

This is one of the things I will miss most about Philadelphia. 

Jo and I sat down with our cups and our spoons.

My mom is making my clean out my room next week, between Thanksgiving and our move,” I said. “Have you done that yet?”

“Oh yeah,” Joanna said. “No one made me, but I did it back in 20o9.”

2009?! 

The weirdest thing, perhaps, is that I feel okay with cleaning out my room. I feel fine. It almost makes me sad when I walk into it now, with the bright purple walls and the junk jewelry collecting dust on my dresser and Samantha and Felicity’s beady eyes staring at me from their perch on the bookshelf. If my mom had asked me to do this ritual cleansing two or three years ago, I know I would have been far more upset. Why do you think that is?

“Two years ago, you weren’t married,” Jo said. “Your family will always be your family of course, but now you have your own family with Zack. You have a home with him.”

I took another bite of ice cream.

“So this is what you do: you lock yourself in your room for a day and look at every single thing. Flip through all your magazines, take photos of anything you might want to show someone someday or use for a #tbt. You don’t need every Death Cab ticket stub. You don’t need every collage Katie Hudson ever made you. Yes, I know what you have in there. And you definitely don’t need that creepy mask I painted for you in 2003. Throw it away. Keep your love letters from Jake. Keep your litmags.”

I’ve been bringing my litmags with me wherever I go for a long time.

Jo and I lingered for awhile, and the dudes from Pizza Brain started wiping down chairs and tables around us. A girl walked away from the register with a peacoat and bike helmet, carrying pints of ice cream in a paper bag. It was Emilie, my favorite barista from our years in Queen Village, when I would hole up at Bodhi for hours on the weekdays. I ran into her for the first time since 2012 at a Billy Penn event a few weeks ago. “I remember you. “I remember you, too!” It took a moment to place her face. I’m not quite as quick at that as I used to be.

I introduced Emilie to Jo. “Tell Tom Henneman I say hi,” Jo said. Tom owns Bodhi, and he used to work with Joanna at Milkboy in the suburbs. We all agreed he was a good dude.

This is one of the things I will miss most about Philadelphia. 

I asked Emilie if I could give her a hug goodbye (she said yes). I waved goodbye to Mimi, who wished me luck from behind the counter. Jo offered me a ride home, but I walked the five minutes instead, crispy leaves beneath my feet on Susquehanna. In one week we won’t live here anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Story of Us

I was supposed to be at my cousin Lynn’s bridal shower, but I had just gotten back to school and really didn’t want to go back home, let alone schlep up to Long Island. I was having the best syllabus week ever, despite my 20th birthday looming ominously in the near future, and I wanted to keep raging. I had spent the summer nannying for a wealthy family on the mainline and making out with boys I knew from high school. I was not ready to be twenty.

It was Friday of Labor Day weekend. I was with Amber and Maddie and Ida. Maddie and I weren’t close friends yet. Our first stop of the evening was Kaela McLaughlin’s 19th birthday at Calder Commons. I’m not sure how we ended up at a party thrown by Collegian kids on South Atherton- it was on the complete opposite side of town, but there we were. We were all on the porch drinking out of solo cups when I saw him- Zack, I mean. He was wearing glasses and a button up and jeans. We made eye contact and stayed there for a little while. The bluest eyes I’d ever seen. It was, as my mother will tell you when she tells the story of us, “smoldering eye contact.” The girls were nudging me to leave- they wanted to go smoke a bowl at our guy friends’ place at Highland Tower. “I’m going to go say something to him,” I told Amber.

“Hey,” I said as I walked up to Zack. “My name’s Allison. Me and my friends are leaving, do you want to come with us?”

Turns out he did, and he brought Brian too. Ida recognized Brian. “We had CAS100 together and hooked up at a frat freshman year. He was cute, I liked him, but he was a republican.” Zack and I talked a little bit on the walk downtown, but he ended up chatting with Amber for the most part (everyone always had a thing for Amber). I left the guys’ place early and went home.

A few days later I was at the HUB planning the Good Life show for SOMA. I had opened up my Facebook on the computer at the front of the classroom and saw a little red flag over my inbox. I opened it. “Who the hell is Zack Hartman?” Danny Greene and a couple other SOMA kids gathered around me, curious. “Oh god,” I said. “He’s that kid I met at that party.”

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I was a real bitch in return. Totally holier-than-thou. Embarrassing. Honestly I can’t even believe he wanted to see me again.

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Cringe-worthy, but he still invited me to a party, which was on the same night of my 20th birthday party. I got blasted, threw up in the bathroom at the hookah lounge and didn’t want to see anybody (but I did survive).  Zack swears he called me and tried to come, but I don’t remember that at all. Monday morning we ran into each other on the corner of Pollock and Burrowes. We made a coffee date at Webster’s and I told him he should come to Feist at Messiah College with me and Kelly Murphy and Ted Wheeland that Friday. Most of our correspondences were via flip phone; those initial text messages were so cautious and sweet. At the show, I got onstage and danced with Feist. I crawled down from the stage and she sang “1 2 3 4.” Zack put his arms around my waist and kissed me.

We hung out for ten days straight after that, and I was in love with him come January.

Spring semester, Zack was accepted to a summer study abroad program in Beijing and I had applied to go to Amsterdam in the fall. When we broke up at the end of the school year, we knew we’d get back together later. We weren’t really breaking up, we were just “on a break.” We instated the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule (which always fails) and continued on with our lives. I spent the summer in Manhattan, interning at an indie music PR firm and serving pastries and coffee to tourists in Union Square. I could always expect drunken phone calls from Zack around 2pm, just as my shift at Tisserie would begin. Those ten weeks went by so quickly. I spent most of my days with Ida and Maddie and new friends from my job. We were always doing something; our New York to-do list was a mile long. We ate and drank as much as we could (I can still remember all of Maddie’s stats from her expired driver’s license) and we went to shows, museums and parks whenever we felt like it. My 20th year was coming to a close, and it had been pretty fucking amazing. I don’t know what I had been so worried about.

Zack and I reunited in August and I started having second thoughts about going to Amsterdam. I went to State College 48 hours before my flight, which was a horrible, stupid idea and I didn’t want to leave. “I will be here when you get back,” Zack told me.

In Amsterdam everything was beautiful and I felt cultured and independent, but it rained a lot and I was homesick often. Over the course of the semester, I spent nearly every dollar to my name traveling. I explored Switzerland, Spain, Austria, the Czech Republic and Sweden. I thought about Zack all the time. My darling 26-year-old Dutch RA had a thing for me but I couldn’t bring myself to let anything happen. “I don’t want to marry you, I just want to see you,” he said to me when I explained my situation with Zack.  I know, I know, but still. Matt Wanetik passed away at the beginning of October and St. George Hunt shortly after. My anxiety surrounding death was at all-time high at that point and by mid-December I was so ready to come home.

Back in State College, everything fell back into the way it had used to be. My living situation was hell, but Zack and I were an item and I spent most nights at his giant house on West Prospect anyway. It felt like my senior year even though it wasn’t. I drank five nights a week and still managed to lose the beer/cheese bloat I gained when I was abroad. I was writing poetry and keeping a daily journal and feeling pretty on top of my shit. Zack and I would fight when we were drunk (which was, frankly, too frequently). He had already secured a full-time job in Dallas, Texas and we both knew that we’d break up for real when he graduated. Zack wanted to spend his final weeks in college amongst all his friends, always and forever, and time for “just the two of us” simply wasn’t a priority. This was by far the ugliest and most tumultuous time in our relationship. Zack moved back home before he left for Texas and I stayed in State College for the summer. We said goodbye for the entire month of June, thinking that every time we saw each other would be the last.

That summer was the “Summer of Women,” which were three glorious months of being surrounded only by females (and Conyers). I became super tight with a bunch of girls who made me feel empowered and sexy, interned at the State Theater and waited tables at the Golden Wok. I missed Zack but was having too much fun drinking outside and flirting with anything that walked to think about him that much. Zack, on the other hand, was wildly lonely in Dallas and called me a lot. In August I went to visit him. The car ride from the airport was awkward and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing there. In his studio apartment, there was soy milk and turkey bacon in the fridge, just for me. All of our feelings towards each other were good ones, and I looked forward to his visit to State College in September.

In October, I booked another flight to Dallas over my week-long Thanksgiving break. A few weeks later, I met a really nice boy who was on litmag with me, and we started hanging out a lot. I timidly told Zack, who was, oddly enough, seeing someone too. I didn’t believe him- how could this happen to both of us at the same time? I canceled my flight but still made plans to see Zack when he was at home for the holiday. When he pulled into my parents’ driveway, I started crying immediately.  We had coffee at the Gryphon in Wayne and oh god, it was so over. I was so sad and felt empty and relieved at the same time. I could finally move on, I could keep dating this really nice boy who was on litmag with me and I wouldn’t have to feel weird or apprehensive anymore.

But Zack and I didn’t stop talking to each other. In fact, every time we were on a break or broken up, we never stopped talking to each other. Four weeks after thinking we were done, it was finals week and I was drinking at the Phyrst. I so wish that I had my old text messages somewhere, because I don’t remember how or why Zack and I were talking at that moment. All I remember is being crouched in the corner, huddled by the coats with my finger plugged in one ear and my cell phone pressed against the other. “I’m still in love with you.” “I’m still in love with you too.”

And so it was decided: we would get back together, do long distance for one semester, and after I graduated I would move to Houston, Texas, to be with him.

Over winter break I spent some time at the Hartmans’ in New Jersey. Mr. Hartman loves to make a good cocktail, and I was pounding gin and tonics. I wanted to be able to tell the Hartmans our grand plan by dinnertime.

“What are you going to do after graduation, Allison?”

“Well… I’m going to move to Houston. How do you feel about that?”

“Houston?” Mrs. H said, surprised. “That’s where Zack lives!”

Yep.

My parents were oddly okay with it as well. I expected more of a backlash, especially from my mother, who didn’t want me to grow up AKA refused to let me make a gynecologist appointment when I was 19 years old. Of course, the decision to move was ultimately mine- but if it came down to it, I wouldn’t have risked my relationship with my parents for the one I had with Zack. My mom and dad liked Zack, and they trusted me. Some family members were skeptical and tried to tactfully imply that I was too young, or brushed me off as naive. On June 30 my bags were packed and I had my one-way ticket to Houston. Zack was waiting for me at the bottom of the escalator at baggage claim with a bouquet of flowers. A gaggle of women watched and cheered as I jumped into his arms. I had moved halfway across the country for love. Here I was. I was ready.

Zack had made me a “Welcome to Houston” mix that we blasted along with the A/C during the car ride from the airport to Montrose, my new neighborhood. It was unbearably humid in Texas and would stay that way until the last few weeks we lived there. My first 30 days in Houston were spent unemployed and felt like an eternity. I didn’t have a car but I did have a bike. I went to coffee shops and yoga class. I cold-called PR firms looking for work until someone decided to interview me. In retrospect those 30 days should have flown by in a hot minute but it’s hard when you don’t know anyone or the area at all. Living with Zack didn’t feel weird at all, and I don’t remember having that many arguments, mostly because we didn’t have any family or friends to attend to. We had our neighbors, and a few friends from our respective jobs, and that was it. There were no set plans or obligations, and we always spent our weekends outdoors and exploring.

Texas was kind of a culture shock. I worked for a small PR firm with a bunch of girls around my age, most of whom had been married right out of college, or were engaged (but absolutely, definitely not living together). Texas overall is conservative; Houston not as much.  Zack and I lived on a crack corner in the heart of the gayborhood (nestled between an autobody shop and a leather bar) but outside of Montrose, the city was pretty ho-hum. Because Zack’s job had him on a rotational schedule, I knew we wouldn’t be in Texas that long- we were going to move at the end of October. I had my fingers crossed for California, but when Zack called me at work in the middle of the day to tell me we were moving to Philadelphia, my eyes welled with tears and I could hardly gchat everyone fast enough.

In Philly, Zack and I lived in a first floor apartment on the cusp of Rittenhouse Square and Graduate Hospital, which was a far cry from our old digs on Hyde Park Boulevard. Suddenly we had this massive social network of family and friends (from Conestoga and Penn State and Chatham) who we could hang out with whenever we wanted! It was in this apartment when I told Zack I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. We were happy together. Shit was serious.

We moved to a less expensive apartment in Queen Village in the spring, right as I was fired from my part-time job (which I despised). I started interning for Yelp and nannying for an Orthodox Jewish family that summer. I was broke as a joke. Zack was there for me and supported me in every way, but freaked out every time I brought up getting married. The two years we lived in Queen Village were a blur, partially due to the fact that I wasn’t writing anything down at the time, but also because our lives became so routine. Not in a bad way, just in a more permanent this-is-adult-life kind of way. I felt depressed for the first time in my 24 years. I had been on over a dozen interviews in less than 12 months and couldn’t land a job. I felt worthless because all my friends had “careers” and I spent my days in leggings toting elementary schoolers to and fro after-school activities. I was getting 10 hours of sleep a night (too much, man). I had all the time in the world to write, and I didn’t. My brother Michael had lost three friends in a matter of six months, and I was constantly thinking about death. I had horrible anxiety whenever Zack or my mom or dad didn’t pick up their phones, and I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering. Therapy helped.

In 2012, I finally got a full-time job in social media/marketing for a tech start up in Center City. This was it! It was all happening! I was infinitely happier in my mental state- now why hadn’t Zack proposed yet? Oh my god, we had been living together for two years and had been dating (on and off, whatever) for almost five. What was the hold up?

I was ready to get engaged a solid year before Zack was. And there was nothing I could do about it. (Pro tip: Every time we fought during this period of our lives, I had usually been drinking and it was almost always about getting engaged. I know it’s easier said than done, but guys and gals, whoever’s in more of a rush: you gotta stop nagging. You gotta stop bringing it up, you gotta stop weaseling the topic into conversation. It will happen when it happens, and when it happens it will thrill you).

This past April, we were at a family friend’s wedding when Zack cornered me at the bar at the after-party. We were sobering up with chicken wings and water.

“Guess what?”

“What?”

“I did it. I asked your dad.”

“For my hand in marriage?!

“Yes!”

“Why are you telling me this?!”

“I don’t know. I’m just proud of myself. And I’m really excited!”

It was so damn endearing.

Three weeks later, we didn’t have any weekend plans. The first Saturday in months where there was absolutely nothing on our calendar, but when Zack asked if I wanted to go on a bike ride, I didn’t think too much of it. When he asked if I wanted to pick up a bottle of wine first, that’s when I had my suspicions. It was barely noon. We threw our bikes down in the grass like little kids, and set up camp in the Azalea Garden at Fairmount Park. Just as I pulled out the novel I was in the middle of reading, Zack put his arm around me and looked at me a little funny. Then I knew, it was really happening.

Afterwards, as we were staring into each other’s eyes with utter joy and happiness, Zack still down on one knee, I saw a figure behind him coming towards us. Did he hire a photographer for this? I wondered to myself. Nope, it was just a little old lady. “Oh my god,” she said. “Am I really seeing what I’m seeing?” We smiled. “Yes!” “Oh my god,” she continued, flabbergasted. “I’ve never seen one of these before!”

After we made all the phone calls and I posted a photo of our smiling faces to Instagram (sorry I’m not sorry) Zack took me to Vetri, where I had one of the very best and most special meals of my entire life, all while being transfixed on the engagement ring of my dreams, which fit so perfectly on my finger. We toasted to our future together, over and over again. 

When I opened the door to our apartment that night, Zack flicked on the light and in front of us were all of our favorite people. Friends from Philly, New Jersey and New York, and of course both of our families. Zack (my fiance!!) had meticulously planned a surprise party for our engagement, and he pulled it off without a hitch. I felt (and still feel) overwhelmed with love and gratitude.

Zack and I will be married on August 29, 2014, seven years to the day after we met at that party on South Atherton. Friday of Labor Day weekend.

I want to badly so believe that there is truth, that love is real

Last night Zack and I saw The Postal Service, who are touring in honor of the 10th anniversary of Give Up. It was one of the last stops on the “Allison Berger Nostalgia Tour,” which began last May with The Shins, continued into fall and winter with Metric and Tegan and Sara and then went full-speed ahead into Spring with Stars, Owen, The Shout Out Louds, and Iron & Wine. It’ll finish up strong in July with Lindsay Baltus’ wedding in Portland, Oregon.

If you had told me in 2004 that I would get to see both Iron & Wine and The Postal Service perform “Such Great Heights” nearly ten years later, I never would have believed you. The Postal Service was my first foray into “emotional music,” a disc that was burned for me January of my sophomore year of high school. While many of you may be reminded of backseat makeout sessions with your high school lover, I don’t really associate Give Up with anyone besides myself. To put things into perspective, by January of my sophomore year, I had yet to be kissed, was going through a lot of problems with my best friend, and oh yeah- I didn’t own a cell phone (unrelated, but can you imagine a sixteen year old without a cell phone these days?).

The majority of the audience last night appeared to be in their mid-twenties and thirties. As I sipped my fourth drink of the evening, I looked at the folks around us, wondering what every single person was being reminded of at that moment. I tried to explain this to my thirty-two year old boss this morning, who was also at the show. “It’s just so crazy that this one album from ten years ago meant so much to everyone, when we were all different ages,” I tried to explain. “What do you mean?” “I mean, I was sixteen, you were twenty-two…like, all the different stuff that we were going through at the time, you know…?” I was rambling.

When Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis kicked things off with “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” Zack turned to me and said, “All of the feelings.” Pretty much. But in a totally removed kind of a way. As in, hey now, I can think these thoughts and feel these feelings and not get lost in them like I did at nineteen, I can think about the past without getting caught up in it, I can enjoy this music for what it is, at twenty-five years old standing next to my fiance for crying out loud. This is me understanding my own path to maturation, don’t you see?

feelsIn high school, I scrawled the lyrics from “Clark Gable” on my desk in black sharpie.

I want so badly to believe that “there is truth, that love is real,”
And I want life in every word to the extent that it’s absurd
I know you’re wise beyond your years, but do you ever get the fear
That your perfect verse is just a lie you tell yourself to help you get by?

Certainly a highlight from the setlist (yeah, yeah, they played the entirety of Give Up, whatever).Nothing Better” was another favorite. Jenny’s voice is downright angelic, and she and Ben did this weird prancercizey half-grind which made the crowd go wild. “They’re definitely getting it in,” Zack commented. We left the Mann Center and hopped on the bus, then walked home from 7th and South, bathed in the streetlamps’ yellow light.

I woke up this morning from a dream where I running around the halls of Conestoga because I was late for 5th period. There was a Nokia brick phone in my hand.

You, me and the Shins

The girl behind me in the second row had been crying nearly the entire set. The show was almost over, and as James Mercer sang the opening line to “New Slang,” I took a look over my shoulder. High-waisted jean shorts, a blonde top knot with a streak of purple at the base of her neck. Wing-tipped eyeliner, which was starting to glisten at the edges, and teeth that looked like the braces just came off. She couldn’t have been older than sixteen.

I was sixteen the first time I heard The Shins. Lloyd Cargo, that motherfucker, he put “Young Pilgrims” on the ever-famous “California Mix.” When my father saw the jewel case casually strewn on the kitchen table, he picked up and squinted. “With love? Is that what that says?”

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Later that year, I snuck into Garden State by buying a ticket for Open Water (which, it turns out, was also rated R) and I was convinced I was falling in love for the first time. When he kissed me I felt fireworks, and even though he was only the second boy to have his tongue in my mouth, I was sure it was the real thing. He burned me the Garden State soundtrack in addition to both Shins albums onto CDs that played in my 5-Disc changer on heavy rotation. He left for college a few weeks later and I started my junior year of high school in the deepest yet most delicious depression I had ever experienced. The first few notes of “Caring is Creepy” sent my face into a histrionic place of heartbreak and I reveled in the pain. To this day I have never shed so many tears over a record.

Half a year later I was “celebrating my three-month anniversary” (wasn’t high school funny?) with my boyfriend, who also gave me these so-called “fireworks.” We had tickets to see The Shins at the Electric Factory. It was April 27, 2005, and I was convinced I was going to lose it (control of my teenage emotions- not my virginity, come on now). “Pink Bullets” (acoustic) rocked my world and I bought this t-shirt, which had a bleeding heart over my own.

ImageThe first time I got drunk it was that coming August, and I was wearing that t-shirt (at Lloyd Cargo’s house- full circle, right?) I know it sounds crazy, but the beers I drank during a game of Kings completely destroyed that shirt. The fabric looked bleached in all these weird places and I eventually ended up cutting out the Shins design and sewing it onto super worn-in and perfectly fitting undershirt I found in a drawer at my great aunt and uncle’s.

A year later I left for college. A few weeks after I was dropped off at Penn State, my brother Michael texted me. “Mom cries every time she listens to that Shins song you love.” I had left some of my CDs in the car. “Kissing the Lipless” was the opening track on “Chutes Too Narrow,” and it was bringing my mother emotional turmoil about me growing up and getting older. If you only knew, ma. If you only knew.

I didn’t listen to the Shins very much after that. “Wincing the Night Away” came out my freshman year, and I thought it totally sucked. I hated that the Shins changed after I was the one who went away to college and wasn’t changing at all (at least, I didn’t think I was changing- wasn’t college funny?) My mom still listened to CDs I had left behind in the family Expedition, but I barely touched my MP3s at school.

At the Tower Theater last Thursday night, I was front row and center thanks to my friend Caroline. I had been listening to the Shins latest release, “Port of Morrow,” after being offered a ticket to the concert, and I was enjoying it very much. Most of the concert was spent sitting down, as there’s really no reason to stand up when you’re eye-to-eye with the band. But when “Kissing the Lipless” started booming from the speakers that were right in front of my face, I jumped up and started singing. Though I know the song is really about sex and breakups, I like to think of it as a homecoming song. “Called to see/if you’re back…” When it came to a close, James Mercer looked at me, and then the keyboardist. “That was a good one, that was a good one,” he said quietly. I had been smiling the entire set. A band that used to bring me to tears at the drop of a hat brought me only a look of sheer joy that night. As the lights came up after “One by One All Day” and people started collecting their things to leave, Caroline grabbed the setlist and I looked behind me once more.

“I have to know,” I asked the long-haired girl standing next to the blubbering top knot. “How old are you guys?”

“I’m 22,” she said, “but this concert is my sister’s 15th birthday present.”

“Perfect,” I said, nodding. “That’s perfect.”

Monday Monday Monday

In August, Penn State Alumni magazine “The Penn Stater” was calling for submissions about concert memories in University Park. I had a lot to choose from. I saw Death Cab for Cutie at the BJC in August 2006, right before I starting going to school there. My dad came all the way up from the Philly suburbs to see Guster with me in the fall of 2007. Band of Horses played at the State Theatre, where I had a really awkward encounter with my super cute French teacher when I was a little bit too inebriated (I got embarrassed and told him the reason I was acting so weird). I saw Third Eye Blind at the Theatre, and Illinois, too. I danced onstage with Jens Lekman at Chronic Town, the hookah lounge on West College, and played the tambourine at Cafe 210 with local favorites The Kalob Griffin Band. Wednesday nights junior year were dedicated to blue grass and the all-inclusive crush on singer Natalie Berrena (she went from blonde to brunette to red and rocked it all). There were house party shows that I wish I could revisit, like Menya at the co-op and Endless Mike and the Beagle Club at the guys’ apartment on Hamilton.

(You can see the top of my head in this whole video.)

Ultimately, I chose to write about Raise Up Roof Beams, which was a band I fell in love with during the first few months of my freshman year. This is what I sent to the Penn Stater:

My first two years at Penn State I was in a club called SOMA (Students Organizing the Multiple Arts). It was the first club after high school that I joined and it made me feel so connected. I loved the responsibility of attending meetings, walking north on Shortlidge to the Thomas building after dinner in Simmons every other Wednesday. I loved meeting other kids who shared a deep love of independent music. Over the course of my college career, I saw many shows put on by SOMA and even organized one myself (The Good Life at The Hub, October 2007). However, the first SOMA show I ever went to was one where I worked the door, handing out fliers to the attendees who gathered on couches in Waring Commons. The opening band, a group of kids from Harrisburg, was called Raise Up Roof Beams, and I remember being mesmerized by the door, listening intently to the lyrics, the accordion, the harmonica, the guitar and the huge bass played by a small blonde girl. After their set, I borrowed $8 from one of my new friends to buy their CD (all I had was Lion Cash). Raise Up Roof Beams’ first record, “Fingers and Photons,” will forever remind me of walking across campus in the fall of my freshman year. I booked Raise Up Roof Beams to play another show at Dragon Chasers downtown in the Spring, which was when I met the members of the band. Five years later in Manayunk, Phliadelphia, I ran into the bass-playing blonde at a bar. I was happy to hear that the band is currently working on their third full-length album.

(This video is five years old, but that’s ok.)

I never heard back from the Penn Stater. The cover of the November issue was originally slated to feature “Concert Memories,” but after Sandusky etc. they put out “Our Darkest Days,” which makes sense. But where did the thousands of submissions go, and will the magazine ever use them? I was really hoping to be published– if only to promote the band. Something inside of me has pushed to make Raise Up Roof Beams “happen” for years. Summer 2007, Sara and I drove an hour and a half to see them play with Koji on the Roof inside a rec hall in Camp Hill. I’m not sure if I saw them play after that– until this past Friday.

Roof Beams opened at The Fire, with only three original members (the others aren’t performing with them right now, but they are recording remotely to contribute to their third album) but with a gorgeously familiar sound. I was looking forward to seeing Nathan (lead singer/guitarist) who is now married and has a baby, which is a total mind blow. Zack said I seemed nervous when I was talking to him. I felt like I was nineteen, starstruck by a local band who hit my heart in just the right way.

After their set, I went to the bar for another beer and made eye contact with someone who looked so familiar. “Do I know you?” I asked. “I’m not sure, but you look familiar as well,” he replied. His name was Chad, his girlfriend was Lisa, and they said they had been to a SOMA meeting or two back in the day. “I fell in love with Roof Beams when they played in Waring Commons when I was a freshman,” I told him, “fall of 2006.” “You’re kidding,” he said smiling, “me too.”

Pack Rats

I used to save everything. I think that’s why I love boxes so much. Everywhere I go, I seem to fall in love with another decorative tin, another brass or wood box. It’s a habit that takes up a lot of space.

I was given a “treasure chest” as a young child that still sits underneath my bed. It’s pretty big– maybe two feet wide and a foot and a half high. That’s where all my class pictures are, diaries I started and left incomplete, felt flags signed by all my camp friends at ESF, pieces of a Princess Jasmine Halloween costume that I put in there because I associated the tiara with a kindergarten friend who died when we were five. Drawings from an imaginary world, marble notebooks filled with stories. Over time, the treasure chest lost some of its innocence. I hid bottles of liquor there in high school, and buried deep are print-outs of high-lighted medical journals from a time when I thought a close friend had an eating disorder.

The two little boys I nanny for have similar boxes under their beds. Instead of a flowery treasure chest, complete with locks, they have plastic bins, like the kind you’d keep under your dorm room bed for extra socks or notebook paper. In these boxes they keep their “Precious Things,” which I learned about when I was asked to go through their closets and pick through the clothes that were too small for them. “A” is 8, “M” is 5. If you follow me on Twitter you’ve probably read my #nannydiaries hashtag and gotten to hear some of their quips and phrases. These boys are wildly intelligent. “M” is especially emotionally mature, often asking me questions about life, death, and relationships. He asks about Zack a lot.

Anyway, as we sorted through their closets they insisted on keeping some of their favorite t-shirts and putting them in Precious Things even though they had grown out of them. This I understood. My closet in Devon, Pennsylvania is home to my Bat Mitzvah dress, my prom dress(es), my favorite pink cotton dress from when I was four with the hearts on it (my yia-yia lovingly sewed a layer of lace onto when it got too short), my favorite zip-up hoodie from high school, and strangely, a few of my zade’s suits which are stored there for reasons I do not know.

However, this morning, as I was scraping dried up bright blue toothpaste from the boys’ bathroom sink, I took a look at the two large plastic cups on either side of the faucet. Toothbrushes, at least a dozen of them, each encrusted with fluoride, sat awkwardly in each cup. Collections, the boys had insisted when I first started sitting for them. No. These were bacteria breeding grounds, and it was grossing me out. I started channeling my neat freak Aunt Tammy and summoned “A” and “M” into the bathroom with me.

“These,” I said slowly, “have got to go. Pick the one that looks the cleanest and we have to throw the rest away.”

“A” looked at me fearfully. “NO!” he cried, tears immediately sparking from his blue eyes. “No! You can’t.”

“Why?”

“Because I love them. You can’t take them away.”

I had each boy bring their handfuls of toothbrushes to the kitchen. I boiled water, poured it into a measuring cup, and swirled each toothbrush until all the dried paste and spit and mold had dissolved and fallen to the bottom.

“Look,” I said, holding the glass up to the light. “That’s bacteria. That’s yucky. These toothbrushes will make you sick if you keep using them. You have to throw some away.”

“A” started crying again.

“A, M, you understand what I’m saying, right?” “M” nodded. “Pick one to use, throw your least favorites away, and the rest we will put with your Precious Things.”

“A” lifted his head. “Okay.”

This attachment to, of all things, toothbrushes.

“Do you not want to throw them away because they remind you of being little?” I asked.

“A”  nodded.

I understood this, too. I once cried into Sara’s shoulder in the bathroom at a sixth grade YMCA Carriage House dance because the DJ was playing Savage Garden and “Truly Madly Deeply” reminded me of the fourth grade and “being young.” I shit you not.

And with that, one by one, after inspecting the characters on each colorful handle- Spiderman, Batman, Cars, Yo Gabba Gabba (these were deemed “too babyish” and discarded)- we disinfected and bagged the most Precious, to be kept under their respective twin beds.

I went through a phase in middle school where I kept every note my mother left taped for me on the side door because I was scared she was going to die and I wanted to have everything that she had written or touched or thought. This included post-its that said things like “pls empty d/w” and “went to yoga, be back at 4” and “love you, have fun at kelly’s” scrawled inside giant heart. I still have these, amongst many other notes and letters, pictures and invitations, in boxes, under the bed.

“M” asked me about dying today. “Can you die if you’re a letter or a number?” His face looked puzzled. “What about metal or glass? What about food? Food dies, because we eat it, right?”

I explained to him that only the animals that breathe and the plants that grow can live or die.

I wonder, if years from now, the boys will look through each of their Precious Things and remember why they believed them to be so precious.

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?