Please, God. Don’t you reject me too.

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been 88 business days since my last full-time job.

But I’m wearing my boyfriend’s bathrobe at 2 p.m., so you probably gathered that.

How can I atone for the mixing bowl of off-brand, sugar cereal I shoveled into my mouth while writing cover letters to fitness brands?

What will it take to absolve me of the 36, pants-free mornings I’ve watched Kelly Ripa waste away in HD? Please bless her with a turkey sandwich.

And, Dear God, how can I possibly redeem my soul after responding to a Big Pharma recruiter? In my defense, I hadn’t taken my Lexapro yet.

I did attend a two-hour, state-mandated “Career Search” course in order to qualify for unemployment. Multiple pamphlets suggested I look for a job through MSN.com. Isn’t that punishment enough?

I’ll hail Mary and a 4X Uber if it means I can escape the surprise pity party people throw for me at every social event.

Only say the word, and I shall at least pretend to read the Craigslist job postings my well-meaning mother forwards me. Are you sure she’s not Jewish? Give Moses a buzz, and get back to me.

If you need me to repent for trespassing on hundreds of people’s LinkedIn profiles, I will. But, last I checked, being creepy wasn’t a sin. After all, Steve Buscemi seems to be doing just fine.

Yes. I’ve done a lot I’m not proud of. But desperate times call for desperate prayers that a writer at your favorite company contracts a non-fatal illness which forces her to relinquish her keyboard to you. Maybe acute Carpal Tunnel? Just until I get the job offer? ‘Miracles’ aren’t part of my marketable skill set, so I’ll delegate the specifics to you.

Ok. I need to meet a friend’s yoga instructor’s college roommate who once interned at a company I’m interested in, so I’ll let you go. Plus, you probably need to get back to clearing things up with the Westboro Baptist Church. Unless you actually do hate Dumbledore. I wouldn’t blame you. Beard envy can be rough.

Bottom line, please find it in your infinite heart to forgive me. I’ve already received four rejections from recruiters who can’t even spell my name correctly. I certainly can’t stomach one from heaven.

In the Name of this Author, the Above Puns, and the Holy Dark Roast I just Spilled on My Boyfriend’s Rug. 

Amen.

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Home is where the heart (and the Lysol) is.

It was the spring of my Junior year, and I had just signed my first lease. I called home to celebrate.

My dad picked up. His voice conveyed markedly less “YEAH!” and notably more “Yeah???”

“Does it have a doorman?” he asked, before I could even get to the part about four girls sharing a converted one-bedroom.

“Does it at least have all the smoke detectors?” he followed, just as I was getting to the bit about inking the deal sight-unseen.

Things got worse when I allowed my parents to move me in that summer.

We pulled up to my place on a blistering Chicago afternoon. It was the kind of day that made Death Valley seem like a delight.

Mom spotted a beautiful little colonial on her side of the car and smiled. I redirected her gaze to the building across the street, and her lips flopped.

We jimmied our way into the three-story, ever-so-slightly leaning building. The doorman was permanently out to lunch, and from the looks of it, so were the health inspector, locksmith, building manager and trash collector.

Twenty-seven stairs led us to my new front door. Each step revealed a fascinating new stain and tattered Chinese takeout menu. One shapeless loafer lingered on the landing. My parents’ silence cut through the distinctly unique odor of vinegar and spit up dunked in mildew.

We made it through the front door and six steps into the living room before my mom’s high pitched cry hit the paint chipped windows. I was impressed she made it that far.

A cursory inspection revealed a host of quaint features.

The toilet flushed courtesy of a duct tape rope connected to the window lock. I’d have preferred to bathe in a major metropolitan puddle than in the tub.

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No amount of festivity could rescue this bathroom

The screened-in porch sunk toward the middle and listed toward the backyard.  Its walls also doubled as a waterfall when it rained, but we’d have to wait until the first heavy storm to uncover that charming addition.

I teetered toward the porch windows and spotted red beer cups tumbling through the crab grass. The only flowers in the garden were stitched onto a broken couch.

All the while, my mom spun a slow, small circle in the kitchen. Her eyes clung to the electric blue walls, as her feet conducted a hybrid squeak-stick. It appeared an overly caffeinated bear had soiled himself as he tore across the linoleum floor.

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We attempted to dress up the floor with a squirrel-sized keg and a fancy handstands. No dice.

“My daughter cannot live like this,” my mother whispered to herself, as if to say she might be ok with all of this if instead her son were legally bound to the joint.

I discovered my father perched on a ladder in my “bedroom,” wielding a measuring tape with a contractor’s precision.

He stood inside a vampire’s wet dream. A previous tenant had painted the walls in what I call “Slit Your Wrists Green” but Benjamin Moore might dub, “Midnight Forest.”  At just six feet wide, the room felt about as spacious as a the bumper lane at a bowling alley, and I had to put the longer side of my mattress against the wall, otherwise it touched both sides of the room. I’d be sleeping on a day bed floating in the middle of glorified closet. The tree-lined view was lovely though.

“Just needs a bright coat of paint. Don’t worry,” my dad said. Apparently, my emotional elephant consumed the whole room.

So, we loaded back into our Expedition and hightailed it to the Home Depot. Mom filled her basket with enough cleaning supplies to open a meth lab.  Dad swept the place like an old pro. I bought a wave-shaped mirror. Because, clearly, that would fix everything. 

Twelve hours later, the apartment looked suited for one drunk bum instead of six, ham-handed heroin addicts. In college terms, I was now living in a high-class establishment. My bedroom looked almost brand new – the old green paint only peaked through six fresh yellow coats if you squinted at the crooked crown molding the wrong way. Where a tar pit once rolled across the kitchen, Magic Eraser revealed a “well-loved” black and white checker. The bathroom. Well, it would do.

One-by-one, my roommates, who also happened to be my coolest college friends, arrived. And the quirks just kept on coming.

Jess announced that the wall between our bedrooms was just a thin piece of sheetrock. Should have known when I could hear her slipping on a shirt in morning. A curtain would have been more sound-proof. And definitely more charming. 

Abby found some bongo drums and a couple of mardi gras masks left for dead years ago. Those things became living room regulars. It wasn’t unusual to find someone perched on our salvaged couches, pounding out half a rhythm and shaking the tail feathers on their face.

Bongos by day.

Bongos before breakfast.

And together we discovered that running more than one appliance at once blew all the fuses. Which sounds manageable, unless you’re four girls all attempting to blow your hair dry and microwave Hot Pockets before going out.

And, of course, there was the morning six husky Russian men burst into our apartment.

Although, in retrospect, I guess we brought that one ourselves.

The first week we moved in, we asked the landlord for windows that opened. You know, for breathing purposes. No answer. So the next week, we demanded. And when that failed, we threatened with a lawyer we didn’t have and definitely couldn’t afford. 

Still, we heard nothing. Until exactly 6:59AM one quiet October morning, when a husky voice bellowed through our plank front door.  It sounded a little like “FEEX VINDOW. NOWWWWWWWWWWW,” and a lot like the start of a 48 Hours special.

I  stumbled to the door in nothing but an oversized shirt emblazoned with a cigar-smoking bulldog. Before I could even exchange pleasantries, the sweatiest of the pack shouted, “FEEEX VINDOH. NOWWWWWW” again and burst into the living room.  The group took to frantically dismantling our window frames. Somehow, one of these mystery men had infiltrated a back bedroom and was now standing directly over Alex’s bed, still screaming, “FEEEX VINDOH. NOWWWWWW.” Of course, this was the one night she had chosen to wear ear plugs and an eye mask. So when she finally came to, all she could make out was a very large, very angry man flapping his lips in the pre-dawn light, all-the-while perspiring onto her Marimekko sheet set. Alex catapulted out of bed and onto our shedding living room carpet. We stood there, she in terror, I in exposed polkadot underpants, and watched in complete shock.

It took twenty minutes of bold hand gestures and unnecessarily slow English pronunciation to piece together why these men seemed to be converting our apartment into a covered patio. Our Landlord had finally heeded our request for 21st century windows. However, he’d failed to tell us he’d be sending over a team of ex-cons to do the job. It’s the little details. But, we should have known from the state of his property that subtly wasn’t his strength.

————–

This should have been the worst year of my life. After all, it featured home invasion, a smidge of black mold, and the occasional indoor flood…oh, and an electric shock so bad it lead to an unannounced kitchen renovation that felt a lot like a four-month dust storm. But that story will have to wait until Alex recovers from the emotional trauma of writhing on the floor like one of those balloons at a car dealership. Which I’m told is approximately never.

If an inspector had seen the gas/electric setup in this place, they'd make this face too

If an inspector had seen the gas/electric setup in this place, they’d have made this face too

Somehow though, against all odds, nothing has topped my lap around the sun at 1103 Simpson.

I spent twelve months learning how to find belly-aching humor in complete disaster. And I got to do it while holding hands, sometimes literally and oftentimes in random costumes, with some of the coolest chicks I may ever know. Those 700 square feet dragged us through total crap, but it minted lifetime friendship membership cards for us too.

Our go-to costumes: adult-sized footie pajamas. Also surprisingly practical for Chicago winters.

Our go-to costumes: adult-sized footie pajamas. Also surprisingly practical for Chicago winters.

So I guess I owe our little pit a thank you for proving that cliches sometimes really are true – with one addendum: Home really is where the heart is…as long as you have a Costco-supply of Lysol.

Shekels, booze and bear hugs, oh my.

It was the spring of 1995 and, like most nine year olds, I was reading the newspaper after church.

My very Jewish, very brilliant grandfather, Herman, insisted that anyone worth their weight in shekels read the paper from front to back.  At very least, on Sundays. At the very most, with a red pen, a pair of scissors and a lot of shouting “Jesus Christ!”

I had no idea what shekels were.  The nuns at St. Anthony’s skipped that vocab lesson.  All I knew was Jesus Christ was a big deal, and any man who served Oreos and Cheetos at dinner parties possessed a certain wisdom I needed.

herm and me

The professor and his disgraced student

So, I nabbed the Cincinnati Enquirer from the kitchen counter, settled into my Dad’s brown, leather office chair and propped up my Reeboks on the matching, “distressed” ottoman. The texturing bore a striking resemblance to sports cleats and melted chocolate.  By any Italian leatherman’s standards, a very avante garde choice.

I fixed my sights on mastering Herm’s finest journalistic talent. He had a knack for folding the news into impossibly small rectangles, until he had a particular article perfectly cropped. A thousand paper cranes wept with sheer joy at the conclusion of every session.

I figured I’d have this trick licked by lunch.

But within minutes, I slaughtered all my best-laid plans. Mice and men sobbed.

I was slapping the paper with both palms. Repeatedly.  I was using my knees as a spring clamp and ironing creases with my teeth. My poor thumb shriveled from vicious tongue thrashings.  And then there were the self-induced paper cuts. This was a blood sport.  Paper survived government-grade shredders in better shape.

I threw down the A section and moved through B, C, and D with equal destruction.

The only thing left was the flimsy classifieds.

The pages stared up at me from the wood floor. I rested my chin on my chair’s leather arm and listened to them plead for mercy.

Even deathrow inmates got a last wish.  So I snapped up the want ads and resolved to give them a gentle, loving read before I beat them to death.

The section greeted me with an entire page of acronyms seeking other acronyms for an acronym.

If I learned anything in fourth grade, it was that you only passed notes in code when you were hoping to hold hands with the boy who slapped you across the face at recess.  I loved juicy gossip, so I got to work jotting a few options for possible solutions. But, Solid Wood Furniture seeking Some BaseMent for Storage & Maintenance just didn’t seem scandalous.

So I skipped to the “dogs for sale” section.

There were long-haired Dachshunds, Jack Russells and mini mutts, oh my.

But I was jonesing for comfort after a disastrous morning, and a barking Swiffer Sweeper wouldn’t cut it.

I needed a bear hug from a big lug.  Something to consume my entire 4-foot, 7-inch frame of shame.

I scanned the ads with the crosshairs of a pheasant-hungry Southern Republican.

And then – Bull’s eye.  A 125-pound New Foundland named—you guessed it—Bear.

I catapulted out of my seat and ran to the foyer, waving the page like a white flag with a distinctly frantic red circle. My mom descended the stairs with a laundry basket, read the ad and said, “I don’t think so, Erin.”

Maybe it was the whiff of Snuggle I caught off the laundry, but I sensed a soft spot in her refusal, and I wasn’t about to give up.

It took a week of subtle sneak attacks and subversive reminders.  I even had to unleash my most advanced adorable glances.  But she finally agreed to an “informational phone call…and that’s IT.”  I could taste victory.

Word reached my father about this defense breach.  So I worked him for an “informational visit.”  He looks vaguely like a big teddy bear, so I sold that angle hard.  After all, they say people are drawn to others who look like them.

The following weekend. General Dad fell at the Battle of Persistence, and he loaded my brother and me into his tiny Chrysler Lebaron for our “visit” with Bear.

We cruised through downtown Cincinnati, across the bridge to Kentucky and into a parking space at our designated rendezvous spot.  Bear’s owners requested we meet them at Cork’N Bottle, the region’s largest alcohol retailer because, apparently, nothing says “good old family fun” quite like a good Old Fashioned.

The three of us stood in the nearly-empty parking lot, searching for paws.  The cracked pavement rolled uphill to meet a stripped down, white RV.  Those rims had definitely seen a few seasons ushering love struck cousins to the alter.   A stout, heavier woman with a bluntly cut bob popped the driver’s side door and walked toward us with a knowing smile.

Stand back, she said, and I’ll let Bear out to meet you.

She slid open the passenger door and out loped beauty and the beast. We froze. Visions of a ravenous lion danced through my head. Bear kept coming.  He picked up speed on the downhill sprint, and his gait lengthened to a full gallop. Long threads of slobber spun through the air, crisscrossed his black snout and splattered to the pavement. The scene went silent until Bear’s plate-sized paws hit my dad’s denim shoulders. The volume clicked back on to a grown man’s giggles and a big, slippery lick.

I knew these hairy hunks would be a match made in heaven.

Dad signed the check while I nuzzled into Bear’s third neck for my hard-fought hug.  Success tasted a lot like dander and kibble, and it felt a lot like hot breath. We were the proud new owners of unconditional love and very hairy shirts.

The woman gave bear one last hug, pulled away and left us completely stumped. No one had considered the logistics of transporting a droopy pony in a car built for petite yuppies. It took a few tries, but dad negotiated a solve.

Ten minutes later, we were cruising town with the top down and the dog exploding out of the back seat.  Passing drivers pointed, we laughed to the point of pain, and Bear inhaled happiness.  His ears flapped in the wind.  I felt Dumbo turn red with envy.  I beamed with pride.

The Era of Bear spanned eight legendary years. He played protector, best friend, confidante and dress up.  He caught tears, swallowed retainers and ate toothpaste tubes whenever my mom picked up the phone.  The FedEx man never dropped off a package without also dropping off a Milkbone for the big guy, and a night was never over until Bear methodically plodded up our creaky front stairs to his final resting place outside my parents’ bedroom.

He consumed our hearts and our dish towels.  He snored like a flatulent walrus. And he insisted on drinking his water from the spigot outside the kitchen door.  When he ate his “breakfast,” the remnants of my mom’s olive oil, water and kibble mixture dripped from his jowls and across the mudroom. We affectionately dubbed this disgusting trait “droobulling.” To put it bluntly, the more our main man embodied a fat, lazy football fan, the more we loved him.

As for me, Bear became a barking reminder that sometimes life’s biggest gifts emerge from your most epic failures. I now believe there’s always a lumbering upside to every disaster.  You just have to keep looking, keep insisting, keep expecting a life-changing cruise in a tacky convertible on the next page.

I may not be worth my weight in shekels, but I’m worth thousands of Bear hugs.  And I think Herm could get behind that.

A Season of Summers

Summer as I knew it went down a drain at Perkin’s Family Restaurant in 2002.

It poured out of my skin and rushed through the kitchen pipes.

I guess that’s what happens when you hold a plate dripping in pancake syrup six inches from your baby face and then aim an industrial-strength spray gun at it.

Poof. Just like that. The magic of Youth vaporizes, and Reality soaks in with distinctly maple flavor.

Until that soggy moment, June through August exploded the laws of time. For 15 years, theme days at low budget camps replaced the calendar, and the lifeguard’s adult swim whistle stepped in for the tick tock of a clock.

Physics lost its pull too.  Everyone I knew scaled skyscraping trees like chipmunks hoarding crack rock in their cheeks, tied off water balloons bigger than Gorbachev’s head without bursting, and belly flopped from the high dive without a single rib shattering on impact.

As for me, I spent those three months in nothing but a Speedo and rollerblades. No shirt, no socks, no problem. By Labor Day, all of my swimsuits wreaked of mildew, and the brakes on my blades were down to nubs. The Idiot’s Guide to Childhood lists these as the cardinal symptoms of summer spent on a happiness bender.

And binge did I ever.  Before the sun went down, I could lose six rounds of Slap Jack with flare, write an impassioned letter to President Clinton about polar bear protection,  twirl a rainbow-colored ankle bracelet into existence, step into Christiane Amanpour’s bunker and act out a breaking news report from Bosnia, wash my dad’s Chrysler Lebaron to see just how tacky the gold tires could get, and read a few chapters of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret…dog earing any page that even vaguely outlined how to will bigger boobs onto my chest.

When the fireflies blinked on across the neighborhood, I’d run home in bare feet to gnaw on three ears of corn typewriter-style, throw my brother’s sweatshirt over my still-wet swimsuit and head back out with my best friend to “accidentally” eavesdrop on neighbors’ phone calls with a set of wonderfully defective ToysRUs walkie talkies. Nancy Drew, she had nothing on us.

For 15 years, I burned through 90 days with a fuel accelerant that etched road rash and cacophonous laughter into the folds of my body and soul.  A haze of brilliant yellow hangs over every moment.

But then, the body clock struck 16.

Suddenly, I needed gas money to keep my car, and the summer fun, blazing.

So, I traded traded in days dying my tongue with watermelon Italian ice for shifts sweeping stained, paisley carpet.  I swapped moonlit evenings-turned-mornings playing truth or dare in Ollie Musekamp’s driveway for hours watching senior citizens gum saucers of cooked carrots.

Lord knows why I resigned myself to a summer job as chief bus girl at Perkin’s Family Restaurant.  Maybe it was because I swim like an amputated lobster and burn like one too, so Lifeguard was out.  Maybe it was because no one else was accepting privileged white girls whose only “service” experience boiled down to wiping toddlers’ butts.  All I know is, it only took one whiff of the employee restroom to know this summer was going to stink.

For eight polyester-filled hours a day, I trucked back and forth from the kitchen in my black orthotics hauling buckets of slop and dripping with envy.  Oh, how I longed to hold the splintered sides of the hostess stand, instead of the handles on my PVC dish bucket.  That hostess had it good, screaming into elderly hearing aids and wiping down laminated menus.  I mentally wiped the smile right off her face with my gnarly dishrag, and then proceeded to disinfect booths sprayed with the guts of war-torn Equal packets and non-dairy creamer tubs.  I could swear the cleaning spray was just water with a touch of grapefruit juice.

I learned to sweep “the right way” from a man who did not have front teeth, and I  discovered that a coupon is still valid even after you’ve dunked it in coffee like a biscuit and taped it back together with fly paper.  Mostly though, I prayed that the baby growing inside one waitress’ belly wouldn’t come out with four arms and dorsal fin.  That’s what my 10th grade health teacher told me would happen if you chain smoked during pregnancy, anyway.

But nothing at Perkin’s shocked me quite like that day I filled in for the dish washer, and instead ended up washed in dishes.

The dish room was explained to me as a mini gas chamber, and I was to be the executioner: Line up the dirty dishes on a rack. Pre-rinse with an industrial-strength hose. Roll the rack down conveyor belt.  Slide up the industrial metal door. Slide the dishes in.  Slide the door down. Press the “On” button.  Wait 30 seconds.  Slide out the rack of sterilized plates in a haze of steam and blinding heat.  Repeat.

But I just didn’t think the plates were coming out clean enough.  Chunks of food clung to the porcelain edges, and I wasn’t having it.  Three racks in, I pulled out a plate, held it in front of my face and laid waste.

As the backdraft of water exploded across my face, I closed my eyes and broke. I found myself standing in front of an industrial sink and in the middle of a puddle swirling with sweat, tears and dish soap. As the steam cleared, sadness condensed around me.   My childhood was over.

Something about that moment literally baptized me as an adult.  I realized that Summer as a concept was not a given, but instead an ephemeral privilege.  I knew from that moment on, I had closed the scrapbook on incandescent months draped in freedom and carelessness.  The years ahead would be messy, challenging, heavy and often humbling…365 days a year.  I would need to keep sight of my dreams and my passions, because the world would not carve out a season for me to explore and expand them anymore.  I would  have to build my own sanctuary in physical spaces and in relationships, instead of in a fantasy world mapped out between the borders between May  and September.

—————————

This past Memorial Day, I sat on a blue deck lounger watching my 10-year-old niece and 5-year-old nephew catapult into their community pool.  A heavy rain had just blown through, and the sun was winding down for the night.  The sweet smell of dew and freshly cut grass hung in the humidity.  As the breeze brushed me, I put down my camera and smiled.  I caught a whiff of my brother and I as we watched summer thunderstorms light up the afternoon sky as kids.  A bolt would strike, we’d count for the thunder, and squeal with delight as the count got lower and lower.

My niece streaked across the sky in a cannon ball tuck, as my nephew gingerly adjusted his goggles.

The canon ball exploded a bomb of water across the deck, and chlorine drizzled down my legs.  In that moment, I almost wished the baptism process could work in reverse, and the cold droplets would take me back to 10 years old.  But I know that’s not possible.

So instead, I tossed another kind of prayer into the wind that night.  I wished for these two magical little people to have a season of summers just as whimsical and inspiring as mine.

Because, when they face their dishwashing moment all too soon, they will need that bank of memories to sustain their wildest dreams and their best friendships.

There is no doubt in my mind, this is why God created Summer.

Forget lunch. Let’s Boondoggle.

I’m not exactly a lady who lunches.

Sure, if you ask me to share highbrow midday meal, I’ll agree.  I’ll even eat like I’ve been nailed to a wall in an anorexic sadist’s kitchen for the better half a decade.

But I’m also going to dribble EVOO all over my skirt and spit in your face.

You should know better than to tell a joke while I’m chewing.

Most of my friends feel the same way.  We’ll gladly slip on our Sunday best and step into a brunch dunked in mimosas.  We’re not crazy.

But before the last napkin is placed politely over the other attendees’ barely touched plates, we’ve already crumbled our linens, two-stepped with the waiter and stolen five sticky buns for the road.

Adios Pomp.  See ya, Circumstance.  We’re late for a finger mustache photo shoot.  Top hats optional.

When my closest friends and I get together, it’s understood that decorum rides in the trunk while snot-inducing laughter takes the wheel and hits the gas.  There’s a tacit agreement that the day will devolve into a series of loving forehead slaps from the moment the first person arrives and realizes they didn’t pack shoes.

Miraculously, when my childhood friends Emily and Chris dropped out of the sky to see me in April, everyone brought footwear. However, no one remembered common sense.  So, we decided to crisscross three states and hike six miles in a circle to find it.

We laced up our boots for a trek through New Hampshire’s Pisgah State Park. Sure, it wasn’t the sexiest selection given the East Coast’s ample, seductive curves.  If I’m being completely fair, the description of the park read more like a Craigslist ad for a set of well-worn allen wrenches than for the shot list of an adventure epic.  But it did say the park covered 13,000 acres of terrain and that it was open “at all times.”

Big target AND 24-hour access? Sold to the three directionally challenged, chronically late, comically disastrous outdoor junkies in the back.

So off we went.  Chris wriggled himself into my ladies XS sweatshirt because he forgot to pack anything besides tee-shirts from the Salvation Army. Surprise. Emily popped on her blue sunglasses and penguin hat. We don’t even bat an eye anymore.  And I stuffed a North Face backpack with five PB&J sandwiches — heavy on the PB. I didn’t want to be stranded, unprepared, on a jagged cliff in a freak snowstorm.

No one ever called any of us normal.

An hour and a half later, our clown car of quirk arrived in distinctly average Winchester, New Hampshire, home to Pisgah’s distinctly average hiking trails. We all feigned awe for the sake of each other’s Saturday.  I pointed out a “beautiful” old barn, but really it was just falling down wreck.  Emily cooed over a set of underwhelming hills.  Dolly Parton’s mountains have more to write home about.  Chris meowed from the back seat. Roughly, that translates to, “Happy Camper.  That’s me.”

Still, we cruised on to our destination.  About nine miles of empty farmland and one K-Mart later, we noticed a major flaw in the homily town’s traffic planning.  Nearly every street was named Old Chesterfield Road. That would have been a quaint trait, if not for the fact that we needed to turn onto one of Old Man Chester’s many fields in order to reach the park gates.  So, around and around we went in our zipcar, until Emily said,  “It’s gotta be that one.”

Lesson 1: Always trust a girl sporting candy corn socks.

She found that main gate.

Lesson 2: Never trust a park website likely written by a PR intern with distinctly minimalist bent.

What the website should have said was “open at all times…unless it’s mud season.  Then we’re closed to anything that breathes and/or rolls,” because the sign on the gate sure said it in big letters. No subtly offline whatsoever.

Without a word, Chris slipped out of his seatbelt, inspected the sign, danced in front of the car and then disappeared to take a leak on a tree.

Emily and I followed suit…on a downhill slope of course.

The only thing worse than driving two hours just to pee is driving two hours just to pee on your own shoes.

As we stood outside the car snapping photos of our typical misfortune and cracking jokes about the nearby house with “1996” proudly emblazoned on its roof, Chris decided we had to find a way in, Old Man Chester be damned. He’s hiked the globe, often alone, and he doesn’t exactly have much regard for posted warnings.

So, we cruised back down the main road to ask a townie for directions to another entrance.  Emily’s socks weren’t enough to find a way in without a trace scent, and the wireless phone signal wasn’t strong enough to give even a house fly cancer.  We had no choice but to engage with the people of Winchester.

Either everyone we asked really didn’t know the park was closed and didn’t know any other entrance, or they just didn’t want to dally talking to a penguin, a cat man and a 12-year-old-looking girl behind the wheel of an SUV.  I don’t think I blame them, if it was indeed the latter.

We had resigned to a failed adventure and had even just crossed back over the border to Massachusetts when I saw a beam of light.  Literally.

The sun hit an adorable, cream-colored historic schoolhouse.  I stared just long enough to see that the sign said “Northfield Public Library.” I knew this was our ticket to dirt.

We crossed the threshold of the building and landed in what can only be described as 1991 meets Little House on the Prairie.  Two small rooms spilled books from cedar shelves, and the floorboards creaked from years of wear.  The librarian sported an ankle-length skirt, short hair I’m sure was made of straw although I couldn’t touch it to check, and a stern warning that the library closed in 15 minutes.

It was 12:15 when we walked in.

She followed her alert with a warm invitation to help ourselves to any literature on the small carts.  After all, it was “free book Saturday.”

Emily and I paroozed page turners that hadn’t been checked out since 1983, while Chris saddled up to one of the two computers in the whole joint.  The sweet sounds of dial-up internet echoed through the air as he mapped a new route to another entrance.  When it came time use the printer, Emily and I broke it instead. We’re not exactly the most ginger ladies, and especially not when it comes to machinery assembled before we were even conceived.  Ever the problem solver in a pinch, Chris pulled out some paper and jotted down the route in his usual left-handed chicken scratch.  Emily swiped a children’s book from the free pile. I went for a questionable psychology book on something called night language.  And, just as soon as we’d dropped into a delightful slice of Bizarre, we were off again.

But not before eating three of the five PBJs in the car and stopping at the dollar store to buy a bubble wand and a box of nerds.

Every hike worth taking requires a sugar high and iridescent floating soap balls.

We did eventually make it to the trail, and we did eventually hike around haltingly beautiful, pristine watersheds.  More importantly, we reminisced about the moments that cemented our friendship.  We talked about our current struggles and fears.  We listened as each of us shared thoughts on our relationships – some failing, some soaring, some woefully non-existent.  We hugged, danced and hugged again.   Anyone coming the other direction must have fancied Chris the ultimate playboy for hiking uphill while holding two girls’ hands.

As the rain clouds moved in, we loaded up the car and crossed the border one more time, this time to Vermont.  Chris was just three states away from collecting all 50 in his travel kit,  so we were more than happy to move our bodies through Brattleboro for five minutes to whittle the list down to two.

There’s that old cliché that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.  This trip, more than any other, cemented that statement for me.  Even if we never stepped on a single trail that day, we would have gone home meowing in unison, knowing that we’d shared a boondoggle with people who get it and, more importantly, get us.

We did not find any common sense in Winchester, New Hampshire, and honestly, I hope we never do.  I feel soo blessed to have stumbled upon a core group of people on my journey who refuse to grow up in the best ways, who give a very friendly middle finger to normality and who think so far out of the box people wonder whether they’ve lost it.

You can take my friends and me to lunch, but you can’t make us drink the Conformity Kool-Aid.

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the first three photos were taken with my iphone.

Make me a bird…and a turkey sandwich.

I’ve always had vivid, all-consuming dreams.

I blame it on right-brained wiring that stokes the creative flames for an evening that burns through every emotion in my body.

In fact, one of my first childhood memories is a vision written from the desk of Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod.

A maniacal deer chased me around a huge shrub in the back yard and, just before it caught up to devour my arm, I took flight.  This same sequence wove itself into my nights for years. The high of escape never got old.

I don’t fly as frequently anymore, but when I do, the release is brilliant. It feels soo real that I wake up and I have to remind myself that I can’t just float to work.  A few years ago, I actually flapped my arms to check.  I wish I were kidding.   That kind of departure from reality is inspiring.

As I began to edit my photos from my ski trip to Vail, I saw an opportunity to release the subjects in my photographs from reality as well.

Why can’t they fly?  Why can’t they explode into the sky like my dad did at Killington Mountain in 1992….just before he smacked into the reality that he was over 40 years old and his name wasn’t on an XGames roster?  Thank God he only shattered his dignity landing that jump.

I decided to make all of my subjects Fly Boys.  I decided to let everyone experience what it might look like to let go of gravity and sail the currents, untethered and uncontrolled.

Therein resulted a series of fantastical, dreamy images direct from my mind and the wide open skies of Colorado

The latter half of my photos from this trip are also based in fantasy – of the time-travel kind.

My friends and I dropped into Central City, Colorado on our adventure back to the airport, and the daily grind.

Central City lives firmly in the 1800s.  I got the impression we might be driving two centuries to get there as we traversed endless, twisting, empty hills.

The only sign that humans existed up ahead was, in fact, a sign.   At the base of the journey, a billboard painted in racetrack colors screams “CENTRAL CITY”. Ah, the the picture of irony.

Like many abandoned mining towns in Colorado, locals in Central City imported casinos as an economic prop.

The casinos felt just as sad as the passing of the town’s hay day.  A few slot machines blinked in a room that looked more like a highway rest stop than a thoroughfare of fun.

The true beauty of this town lies in honoring that the future does not exist there.  It is a place to reflect on what was, not on what will be.  It is a place to pay respects to what will never exist again, no matter how many turns this earth does around the sun.

My friends and I inhabited that soul-filling moment in Central City and then promptly jumped back in the car for turkey sandwiches.

You can’t live in a dream forever. You have to fill your stomach too.

An Erin by any other name…

My mother doesn’t like my name.

The woman is never short on opinions.

It seems that on the delivery table, she fancied me a Lily, and she was sure all nine rosy pounds of me would blossom right into it.

Everyday, I thank God she lost the battle for naming rights.

Nothing seems more incongruous than quirky, sassy, tiny little me brandishing a moniker tailored for a demure, delicate, lithe debutante.

The baby who would not be Lily

Lily would have excelled at gymnastics, what with her flowing grace and calculated steps.

I found myself politely excused from tumbling class at the tender age seven. The instructor said I “might be better suited for something a bit more rough and tumble.”   Apparently, the class title wasn’t meant to be taken literally.

Therein began 11 years of my parents trucking to American hot spots like Evansville, Indiana and Zanesville, Ohio to watch me break my wrists, trash talk like a sailor and drag other girls to the ground when the ref wasn’t looking. I loved every minute. My mom loved every minute flipping through her Vanity Fair on the sidelines while screaming, “Goal it, Erin!”  She tried.

Nowhereville, Indiana, 1997. I’m just over the goalie’s left shoulder. This was the year I decided to chop off all of my hair for a “new look.” That’s a nice way of putting it.

Lily would have traipsed through town in beautiful dresses, replete with spotless lace, pressed creases and crinoline to boot.

Oh how my mother tried to squeeze me into that closet, but I dripped popsicles all over her well-intentioned efforts and dragged my saddle shoes through the mud. Literally.  She graciously surrendered altogether somewhere around second grade when I traded in cardigans and pretty headbands for bandanas and funky fresh overalls inspired by 90s music mavens TLC.  Hip Hop and Country never played so well together.

Lily would have collected a brothel of Barbies, invested in the Dream House and sunk her fortune into buying Ken’s love with a spiffy, red corvette.

Instead, I refused to own any doll that didn’t “do” something.  Thus, “Sparking Rollerblades” Barbie was the only bimbo to make it into my collection of toys.

Well, except for Transgender Barbie…Trans sold separately.

In fifth grade, my best friend and I enrolled Homecoming Queen Barbie in an experimental sex change operation.  We were the most progressive ten year olds 1996 had to offer.  After scrawling the obligatory “Do not enter! Surgery in progress!” sign in crayon and posting it on my bedroom door, we got to work sawing off Bab’s boobs with a steak knife.   The reverse plastic surgery went extremely well, by all accounts.  Barbie woke up from the procedure looking banging.  Short hair, painted on combat boots and a flack jacket completed the look.  We paraded our new leading lady around the house, and my mom looked horrified.  Lily would have fainted, face first, into her plate of crumpets.

Barbie’s top-notch surgeons dressed as the Blues Brothers for Halloween

Years later, I found out my mother’s terrified expression had nothing to do with our act of defiance, and everything to do with the basic parental fear that we could have cut off our fingers. In truth, she was entertained and inspired by two budding feminists with the gusto to risk their phalanges in a campaign against the status quo.

I like to think I remind my mom every day how thankful she is that I am not a Lily, written with rigid lines, but instead that I am four much more well-rounded, flexible, dynamic letters that spell Erin. I like to think she hoped for a Lily instead of an Erin because she couldn’t hope for something she’d never known.  She envisioned my rosy cheeks growing into a Lily instead of an Erin because she couldn’t picture something she’d never witnessed.

Nothing has ever been more essential to my identity than the fact that Erin by any other name would not smell as sweet. Sorry Shakespeare, you can’t win ‘em all.

My name just is Erin. And it fits me like my bright red Converse.

My red Converse. bottom right.