Crashing the party

We had a mid-afternoon doctor’s appointment in Oakland the other day and were finished at, of course, 5:00 p.m. — rush hour. Not a fun thing. So we decided to take full advantage of our validated parking garage ticket to stick around and have dinner and try to miss the rush.

If you’re not from these parts, Oakland is a section of Pittsburgh where the University of Pittsburgh (the largest employer in the city) and its Medical Center (a behemoth in its own right) are located, along with Carnegie Museum, nearby Carnegie Mellon University, and lots more, so it’s a hoppin’ place. Students, profs, administrators, medical folks, commuters…you get the idea.

I went to Pitt, and worked in Oakland for 5 years after graduation, so being there is kind of like coming home. But it’s like going to a slightly foreign place, too. I graduated more than 25 years ago, and haven’t spend any time at all in Oakland for many years. Tons of new buildings on campus. So when it came to picking a place for dinner, I didn’t even know what was around anymore.

We set off down Lothrop Street (which I remembered vividly — it was always known as Cardiac Hill — Pitt Stadium was situated at the top of it, and the tens of thousands of fans trudging up the hill on game day know it well. I used to have to hand-carry endless documents around campus for my student job, and a trip to Lothrop Hall was always a whine-inducer).  Anyway, we started off going DOWN the hill, but in the light rain, wind, and increasing cold, I was eager to just find a place already and get inside.

We ended up making a big loop and then walking several blocks through the heart of South Oakland (major student area) to Mad Mex — a hometown favorite. But I’d never been to that location, and when we walked in around 5:30, we were slammed by loud music and louder talking in the long, narrow room with a bar on most of one side and tiny tables on the other. Man, it was crowded. I didn’t think there would be a spot for us, but we were shown to an itty bitty table about 1 foot from the people on either side of us (long bench seat against the wall on one side; row of small chairs on the other). I realized then that they were having Happy Hour specials for Day of the Dead, which may have explained some of the crowd.

We were the oldest people in the place by at least 25 years. I kept thinking they were all thinking, “What are mom & dad’s friends doing here?” and, “Aren’t those two old people sweet.” The food was great, as Mad Mex food always is, and we enjoyed our half-off drafts (2 kinds of pumpkin ale!), but I couldn’t shake that feeling of standing out like a sore thumb amid the glow of all the phones that were ever in hand and the talk of classes and such. And I thought, again, how times had changed since I was in school.

We just didn’t have the money kids have these days. I don’t think we ever went out to happy hour at a bar, let alone eating dinner there. We didn’t buy $4 coffees every day (or ever), and brought our lunches with us in paper bags. We didn’t have phones (except the one in the apartment.) When we did go out (way after happy hour — usually around 10:00), trying (usually successfully) to get into bars even though we were underage, I don’t remember drinking when we got there — just dancing. I do remember that you could have a large pizza delivered for $3.99, which was our big Friday night treat (before going out).

I always marvel at the high school kids you see in Starbucks — seriously, where do they get the money? And who drinks coffee in high school?

Is this the part where I throw in a “whippersnappers” and talk about trudging to class in 4 feet of snow?

Anyway, it was kind of a sad foray into my past with a jolt of present-day reality. I’m OLD, even though I don’t FEEL old.


We pushed our way through the crowd to leave, ears ringing a bit, and made it back up Cardiac Hill without needing CPR. We paid our $5 parking fee (validation only covered $3), and made our way home — still dealing with some congestion after all. On the roads, and in our memories, as we thought about the kids we used to be, and wondered where the past 25+ years had gone. And when bars had gotten so loud.

We are always the same age inside.
~ Gertrude Stein

To redo, not undo

I’ve had the same Day-Timer planner for more than 20 years — a gift from my brother that has to be the most-useful/used gift I’ve ever received. When I started the job that launched my writing career, most everyone in the company was using a similar planner, and I found out after I was hired that the fact I brought mine to the interview was something they noticed.

On my to-do list for years now (literally) has been to redo the address pages in the back of the planner. Written in pencil (but rarely erased) are 20+ years of people, phone numbers, addresses, passwords, URLs, security codes, login instructions…anything I deemed important to remember and have quick access to.

Of course, it’s hopelessly outdated, and I bought a new set of pages years ago, meaning to redo them. That task has been on my to-do list ever since. When a friend gifted me at Christmas with a nifty desktop chalkboard, it was the first thing I thought to write on it.

I think it’s finally time to tackle the project. But as I start with the As, it’s not so easy. It feels like erasing a scrapbook. The number for the old cable company makes me remember launching my business and my first attempts at getting online. My dad’s doctor’s number make me think of my dad. The address of a friend/colleague I haven’t seen in years but still exchange Christmas cards with — I have the address in my Outlook address book — do I need it here too? Another old friend/colleague I don’t correspond with at all. Should I erase him completely (I have his e-mail)? And the Bs…here’s the number of my old next door neighbors — lovely people, but haven’t seen them in years. Oh…the painter who worked on the first house we built. And the loan number for the car I got rid of years ago.

As I page through, nearly every entry triggers some memory…some easy to let go, some I’m not so sure. Does it hurt to keep my ex’s sisters’ info? The cleaning lady we used for a brief time? The fact that mileage was 32.5 cents/mile in 1998? (It’s now 51 cents/mile in 2011.) Or the nursery on Rt. 8 I used to love to visit that might not even be there anymore? A tile installer someone recommended but I never used? Oh look, I had a tetanus shot on 10/27/04…I’ll need another in 2014.

I’m already afraid that even when I do redo the pages, I’ll feel the need to squirrel these away somewhere too. So much for decluttering and fresh starts.

But I’m not a scrapbooker. Not good with photo albums or collages. I tried to make a wedding scrapbook and lost interest after the first page (that’s another project living in a plastic bin, taking up space). More and more, as I try to recall a name, fact, tidbit, my once-agile memory fails me.

Something tells me I’ll need these pages one day, not to call an old colleague or business, but simply to recall they existed at all.

It’s appropriate, now that I think about it. I’m a word person, not a picture person. I need these words to trigger the images. I’d be foolish to throw them away.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself today.

So, yes, I’ll tackle the to-do…finally. The fresh pages won’t include the name of the tax collector for the borough I lived in 8 years ago, or the phone number of the people who bought one of my previous houses and later moved back to Arizona. I’ll redo everything neatly and make room for what’s to come. But I won’t completely undo what’s gone before — those old pages have a lot of life in them.

To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye, to restore it,
and to render it the more fit for its prime function of looking forward.
~Margaret Fairless Barber

Button, button, who’s got the…

As I was getting ready the other morning, I noticed a loose thread on the button of my blouse. I pulled it, and just as I realized the button was unraveling completely, it fell off into the sink and down the drain. Bye-bye button.


As it was the critical “bra-hiding” button, I had to do something and didn’t feel like changing. Time to dive into that stash of button packets I’d been saving. You know, the kind that come attached to new clothes? After some thought, I remembered where I had squirreled them away: in the small chest of drawers in the vestibule, along with more candles than I’ll likely burn in my lifetime, and a dozen or so extension cords and extra-plug thingees (really useful at Christmas!).

All I needed was a simple white button with 4 holes. What I found was a tinful of memories.

Oh, that beautiful gray sweater. A gift from my best friend from high school. I wore it to death. Loved it; loved her. (Thanks, Annie.)

And that green silk two-piece dress — so pretty. Gave up trying to fit into it and gave it away some years ago.

That navy blue button-down sweater with the crest and the fancy buttons — I wore that a lot! Very nautical.

Of course, for every button or bit of thread I could identify, there were a half-dozen I couldn’t. And after all that, I still didn’t find a perfect match for my simple white button. So an ivory one (from something 100% silk according to the tag) had to do. I’m sure no one will ever notice.

But if I ever find myself needing crochet hooks or the hard contact lenses that were my high school graduation gift that I only wore briefly Freshman year before getting a weird eye infection and giving them up — I now know where to go.

Clearly, I have a thing for buttons. I remember playing endlessly with the buttons my mother collected in a few jelly jars. She told me “they” (she, my grandmother, my aunts) used to cut the buttons off clothes before discarding them. Since I can’t imagine them ever throwing anything away, the clothes must have been threadbare and beyond salvage. It was these same jars of buttons I berated my brother for throwing away a couple years ago when we were cleaning out the “junk room” at my mother’s…the same jars I dug through piles of trash waiting on her porch for garbage day to rescue. Sure, I was afraid she might miss them — we never know what odd thing she’ll pick to fixate on — but part of me also wanted to “inherit” them someday. (Those same jars are still sitting in yet another junk room at my mother’s…it’s a sickness, no, this hoarding gene I fight and win, most times.)

I also snagged a large Necco Wafer jar of buttons my mother-in-law had slated for donation when she and my father-in-law downsized and moved a few years ago. That (no doubt highly collectible) jar is living between the armoire and radiator in the living room.

I did, however, sort through them and put aside some favorites for some still-undetermined future project — those buttons are living in the armoire. 🙂

Seriously, though, clever people do such cute and creative things with buttons — embellishing sweet little pillows…dressing up lampshades…decorating picture frames. Someday I’ll do that too. Really.

In the meantime, if you feel like passing along any buttons you are physically able to live without, I’ll have a jar ready and waiting. And if you should need a button, you know who’s got it.

Memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food.
~ Austin O’Malley

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