Let’s Play a Love Game

….no, let’s not, actually.

Adventures in dating have been interesting. That guy I mentioned in one of my previous posts? Didn’t work out. I became a victim of breadcrumbing. Those of you unfamiliar with the dating lingo these days, breadcrumbing is when someone shows JUUUUUUST enough interest to kind of string you along. I’d get a text one night, respond to it, then not hear from him for another week. Same greeting, new week without any contact. I don’t know why some people think this is acceptable. I genuinely liked him, but it wasn’t right and I deserved better than breadcrumbs. So the last time I got that “hey you” text, I ignored it. Hey yourself.

So I got back onto a dating app. Back into the cesspool. What I did learn about myself from the last round of dating is that I can, in fact, have actual, meaningful conversations with someone who completely disagrees with me politically, that having kids isn’t a deal-breaker, and that if you want a relationship, act like you want one.

Messages on dating apps are weird. Sometimes I’ll get something interesting that shows the guy read my profile (“what was your favorite part of Santa Fe?” or “what was the last concert you saw?” or “omg I actually got the [insert super obscure Simpsons reference here]!”), but most fall into 2 categories:

  • Really explicit hookup requests (no thanks)
  • “Hey.”

Come on. Have we completely lost our way? I may have conditioned myself to deal with a lack of romance but that’s barely even friendly. Give me something to work with here. One guy had (if I remember correctly) a semi-decent opening line, so I went to check out his profile. Oh heavens. Nothing in his profile except for this:
Hobbies: eating p***y
So I wrote him back. “Not my type, thanks and good luck!” He tried to explain that “I have other hobbies” but by then I could tell this guy wasn’t what I was looking for. You’re a grown ass man, not a frat boy wearing an “amateur gynecologist” shirt. Act like it.

Sometimes I still wonder if I’m asking for too much. Like maybe I’m seeking a unicorn. But I have other things to worry about than lowering my standards. So I didn’t.

One gent in particular caught my eye and we got to talking. We met and proceeded to go on a fair amount of dates ranging anywhere from the typical date night to friendly trash talk during a Steelers game in the last few weeks. These are all good things. So here goes round two. I like the guy. He makes me laugh and I enjoy his  company. So far, so good. We’ll see how it goes.

What I like about this round is that I’m being pretty upfront about what I’m seeking in a relationship, what I definitely don’t want, and ultimately, what I need to get out of a relationship. I’m too old to play games or be subtle. At the same time, I want dating to be fun and exciting and new while I get to know someone. Somehow, I think I’ve managed both. I’m not about to waste anybody’s time, especially my own. I’d expect someone else to extend the same courtesy to me.

Something else I’m learning in this round of dating is to communicate. While we are still getting to know each other, I don’t expect someone to know how to push my buttons, what pisses me off, and what sends me over the edge. If he’s doing something I don’t like, I tell him. I don’t expect someone to know when something’s wrong, and I don’t expect him to know how to fix this mystery thing that’s wrong. We’ve yet to have an argument, but I’m not afraid of confrontation to get everything out in the open to work on said argument and continue to build a relationship.

For so many years, I’ve completely lost myself in someone else. I’ve feigned interest in things I absolutely don’t care about (gambling, college football that isn’t Pitt/UConn/UVA/VA Tech, Scandinavian metal bands, etc.) just to make someone happy or content. Now, I have no problem saying I’m not into something I’m actually not into, whatever it may be. Oh, you want to go to the Renaissance Fair? I mean, okay, I guess. At the same time, I wouldn’t expect anyone to get into pysanky or grunge/punk music just because they’re two things I happen to love. You’re not into Nirvana? That’s okay. I am. I’ve enjoyed them for 20+ years without you. You’re a Colts fan and not a Steelers fan? That’s fine. I’ll wear my black and gold and you wear your blue and white and may the best team win. I promise not to attack you personally during a game, just your team and coaching staff.

I’m too old to honestly believe I can change someone at their core, or even superficial things. I don’t expect someone to want to change me, either. If you want something different, move along. I think I’m pretty awesome to be around. Honesty is the best policy for just about everything.

So let’s just have fun and see where it goes.

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That Long, Winding Road Called Memory Lane

This started with a Polaroid.

Celebrating #tbt, I posted a photo of a photo to Facebook from my middle school’s 8th grade dance. There are 16 of us in this photo, all in our awkward 14-year-old glory. I am Facebook friends with more than half the people in the photo and had to tag them. I did this around 7:30am right when I woke up. Around 9am the comments started.

“Oh my God!”
“Jess, please no more middle school pictures!”
“Don’t listen to her! These are hilarious!”
“Y’all just wait I’m going to go through my albums!”

Then the photo comments started. All from 8th grade (circa 1997/1998). Bad hair, bad fashion, bad makeup, but good friendships and many laughs through all the awkwardness.

Facebook friends for Facebook friends’ sake almost, I have had little interaction with most of these girls since high school. A few of us stayed close in college, even fewer continued talking after 2006 when we finished our undergrad degrees. But I know their lives thanks to the little window they show the world. I see their joy (Kate and Tom finally got the baby they wanted), their happiness (Liz has her own optometry practice), their pain, their grief (losses of parents and children). Their new houses (congrats, Kelly!), their aging parents, their spouses (Julie got married and almost immediately had a baby; girl was on a mission), and kids (looking at your Jakey and Cora, Hanna), their jobs, some who can’t really talk about them due to security clearances. I see all these things but when I see these photos I only remember our 14-year-old selves. I wouldn’t recognize them now. We’ve all been through so much and our lives have gone in many different directions, miles away from South Park, where we spent so many days growing up.

Seventy-two comments (and probably ten more photos) later and countless laughs looking back at our awkward selves, I thanked the girls for the trip down memory lane. I had already dug into my shoebox of disorganized photos from my childhood through college, and many of the photos contain the same girls. I tucked them away (not in the shoebox) to save for future throwback photos.

No, I didn’t reflect on my 14-year-old self because of this. I was fourteen, who cares? What I did reflect on is the fact that these girls, who may or may not know anything about my current self, are portals to who I was and a glimpse into why I am who I am today. We don’t talk every day, or maybe even every year. But every now and again, we are pulled back into what was.

“I heard ‘I Alone’ last week and thought of you, as I always do when I hear Live.” -Caitlyn
I actually hear this line a lot. People I’ve not seen or spoken to for 15 years will text me or send me a Facebook message that says that exact same thing (maybe the song is different). I do the same thing with Liz when I hear Blind Melon or Red Hot Chili Peppers. I think of Hanna whenever I watch Pocahontas; Lisa whenever I hear Soul Asylum or randomly drive past our old skating rink; Caitlyn when I hear the Wallflowers; Kelly when I hear the Backstreet Boys; Steph when I watch the “Bart vs. Australia” episode of The Simpsons; Kate for pretty much anything that was funny between 1997 and yesterday.

I’m reminded of Baz Luhrmann’s “Sunscreen” when I think of these girls. “Understand that friends come and go, but to a precious few you should hold on. Because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.” I’m not going to lie and say I’m especially close with all of these girls today; I’m not. My life took me in a different direction than theirs and that’s okay. A lot of them are still close with each other and that’s also pretty okay. But I do think it’s important to remember the people who knew you best when we were at our most vulnerable. It takes a special kind of person to be friends with our adolescent selves, and these girls were special to me, even if for a brief moment in time. I just hope, that when they see an awkward photo of all of us, and see me with my frizzy hair and gigantic glasses and horrible braces, that they’ll smile, too, and remember all the fun we had almost 20 years ago.

Thanks for the memories, girls.

That Won’t Keep Me Warm in the Middle of the Night

It’s been over two years since I’ve written anything here, let alone anything of substance. A lot has changed since 2015, but simultaneously, everything is just the same.

Hindsight is 20/20. Earlier this year, I got into this relationship that I didn’t belong in, because I think, in my heart of hearts, I knew it wouldn’t work out. And I knew I’d be the one getting hurt. So what happened? It didn’t work out. And I got hurt. Enter the 20/20 hindsight. I don’t regret anything, but I now see pretty clearly that the relationship was doomed from the start. And that’s okay. Life goes on. These kinds of experiences shape us into who we are today.

It didn’t take me all that long to get over the relationship. The more I thought about it, the more I realized there are many things about it that I wouldn’t miss. More than things I would miss. And it only took a little longer to get over the now dead friendship that preceded. Because with my hindsight, it feels like it was less of a friendship and more of a convenience. And a convenience is all I’ve ever been in a relationship. For the past however many years (we’re going back over a decade) I do all I can to make a guy happy and get little or nothing in return. Nobody to count on when I need them (there are individual exceptions here but generally, no), nobody to buy me flowers just because, nobody to really make an effort because I made enough effort for the both of us.

This shit stops now (dear future husband, #sorrynotsorry).

I thought common interests and a mutual love were enough to sustain a relationship. Oh Jesus, was I wrong.

For years, I had conditioned myself to believe that I did not, in fact, want to get married, nor have kids. Still pretty firm on the not having children of my own bit, but who knows on that front. But one thing is absolutely true: yeah, I want to get married. I repressed this for probably ten years. Maybe it’s because for so long I’ve had relationships where marriage was a very slim or nil possibility. I thought commitment was enough. Except I couldn’t even get that. I spent time with people who couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to me and waited for them to come around on the issue. They never did. People don’t really change, I guess.

I’m in my thirties now, and even though I thought I knew better when I started this last relationship, I didn’t. I now see many (not all) things for how they are and realize it’s wrong of me to expect something from someone who is incapable or unwilling, much like it’s unfair for someone to expect something of me that I can’t give. I’m not going to wait for someone to come around on commitment issues. If someone tells me they absolutely never want to get married, I’m not gonna sit there thinking he’ll change his mind. He won’t. And that’s cool. It’s not for everybody.


I want someone who’s going to spend holidays with my crazy Ukrainian family, or who wants me to spend the holidays with his crazy family. Someone who, when we get home from work, is happy to see me and actually gives a shit how I feel and what I think; who will talk to me and pick a bottle of wine while I cook dinner and help me with the dishes afterward. Someone who won’t interrupt me and leave me listening to one-sided conversations. Someone who doesn’t need to have the last word. Someone who will apologize when he’s wrong. Who will text me good morning and goodnight. Hell, someone who actually responds to texts and answers the phone when I call (this is actually a pretty big deal for me). Someone who gets along with my friends, will sample cookies when I’m on a baking frenzy weekend, someone who will put up with my crabass when I’m sick and make me tomato soup and buy me Robitussin anyway. Someone who appreciates the work that goes into my pysanky and understands I’ll be preoccupied for a few hours if I’m in the middle of one. Someone who wants me to know his friends and family and is perfectly fine, once we’ve established ourselves as in a relationship, with saying, “This is my girlfriend, Jess.” (seriously why is that so damn hard?) Someone who has enough in common with me that we are compatible but enough differences that we don’t lose ourselves in “us” and still have individual personalities. Someone who’s ready for a damn commitment. Someone who makes me want to be a better version of myself.

I wonder if I’m asking too much.

Actually, I don’t care. No, I’m not 25 anymore, so the pool is notably shallower (oh God some of the people on those silly apps and their opening lines…sheesh), but I still deserve someone who, as my sister says, “is just gonna love on you and who makes you feel like the queen that you are.” Damn right, sister.

I’ve met someone in the last few weeks, and he’s pretty rad. I am really enjoying getting to know him, and it seems like the feeling is mutual. Usually, the idea of meeting someone new and going through the whole dating game again gives me a brief but very real anxiety attack, and I back out from meeting the guy. None of that this time. Maybe I’m over the anxiety of worrying that he’ll think I’m good enough or not. I know I’m awesome, and if he doesn’t think I am, well, okay. Maybe because when we got to talking and eventually exchanging numbers I couldn’t explain why I felt so comfortable with it; and maybe I really liked those butterflies I felt when I got that first text (and, if I’m being honest with myself, every text that followed), and that first phone call a few days later when we talked for nearly two hours until the wee hours of the morning (then texted for another hour). And maybe I really, really liked, when we finally met in person, that I felt comfortable enough to snuggle up with his arm around me when we watched a silly movie. Maybe now’s the right time for me. Maybe he’s the right guy, maybe he isn’t. Time will tell. But finally, I’m not afraid to find out. We talk a lot, and laugh a lot, it doesn’t hurt that there’s a mutual attraction and a handful of common interests (including some of my weirdo quirks like haunted houses and horror movies and my not-so-healthy obsession with live music), with more we’ll inevitably learn in time. What initially drew me to respond to his cheesy opening line (no, literally; it was about pizza), was something in his profile that I had recently said verbatim: I’m generally happy with my life and just want someone to share it with.

Hey, me too!

So all right. I’ve let go of past disappointments and I am stronger and wiser and I have a pretty clear picture of what I want and deserve out of a relationship (or even just a date).

Times are changing, and that’s a good thing.

At the end of the day, sometimes all a girl wants is to know someone’s thinking about her.

homer's love letter

How Furious 7 Helped Me Grieve


via forbes.com

A self-proclaimed Gasolina (my track record of boyfriends backs this up; I’ve dated boys who’ve driven Corvettes, Mustangs, Camaros, and Civic SIs), I really got into the Fast and Furious franchise (in high school, because a band I love made it onto the soundtrack). I have a few on DVD; I love the man candy, the underlying theme of family and togetherness, the over-the-top scenarios. A friend of mine and I went to see Fast and Furious 6 in the theater back in 2013, and that night we made a preemptive date for Furious 7 when it came out in 2014.

Well, things don’t work out as planned.

After Paul Walker’s death, I wondered 1) what the franchise would choose to do with Brian O’Connor’s character, and 2) how they’d acknowledge Walker’s death in the film (if at all). I follow Vin Diesel and Ludacris and all of the FF crew on Facebook and Twitter, and any time they mentioned the movie or posted at #tbt with Paul, it always seemed with such a heavy heart. You have this character, this crew, together for 14 years, yes, even off-camera, these cats were family. They lost a family member when they lost Paul.

It has been a particularly difficult week for me emotionally, but I have spent a lot of my time keeping busy.

Monday: crafting
Tuesday: catching up on DVR/magazine reading
Wednesday: visit to mom’s
Thursday: drinks and F7 date with Lindsay
Friday: work at the bar
Saturday: work at the bar
Sunday: Easter

Let’s focus on Thursday. Lindsay has been my friend since we met in college in 2002. No longer a bedroom away, Lindsay lives a few towns over from my little river hamlet and we get together frequently as a result. When I found out that our movie theater was screening F7 last night, I almost insisted we go. We met up early to have a cocktail. Lately, our talks have inevitably shifted in topic to our Grandmas. We both lost our Grandmas this winter, within 3 weeks of each other. We talked about how this would be the first Easter without her respective cooking, without hearing her laugh, without having her around. It was melancholy, but it’s nice to be able to talk about those things with Lindsay. It’s hard to grieve when the people you lean on the most (family) are grieving the exact same loss. So with Lindsay, we are going through the same thing, but are kind of removed from each other’s situations. It helps to be at least a little on the outside when helping someone out. I think that’s part of the reason Gramma’s passing has been so difficult on my family: the person we always went to for really anything is the one who’s gone, and that’s not an easy feeling. So we are learning to lean on each other and it’s an adjustment; we don’t want to add to anybody’s pain (at least that’s how I see it; I may be wrong).
So Lindsay. We grieve together. We share memories, laughs, and the kind of sentiments you are only comfortable sharing after over a decade of friendship.

Something felt strange last night, though. Like, we were going to this movie, and we knew Paul Walker died in the middle of filming, and we knew they’d do something to acknowledge it, but we weren’t sure what. Lindsay called it the end of an era. I think we were kind of prepared to shed a few tears during an action movie.

The movie itself was typical for the FF franchise. James Wan did the high-speed chases and over-the-top stunts justice. I’d expect impressive special effects from Wan, given his resume of Saw and The Conjuring. But the way they dealt with Walker’s death at the end of the film, that’s what got me. Without giving it away, I will say it was beautifully and tastefully done, and an appropriate tribute to the actor. While that was all well and good, I have to give credit to the most perfect song placement ever:

via youtube.com

It was this song that sent me over the edge. Maybe it was seeing a tribute to an actor gone too soon. Maybe it was the earlier reminiscing with Lindsay. Maybe it was the realization that on Sunday, my Gramma won’t be there with a hard-boiled egg blessed from church to greet me with christos voskrese. That she will never greet me again. Maybe it was a combination of all of these things. But I got home, and I sobbed. I sobbed well into the night. I hadn’t cried for awhile. My crying tapered off about week or two after her funeral. But Easter…Easter was always so special. And I’m not going to lie and say we’re all going to be super happy on Sunday. We may shed a few tears, but I think we’ll rise above our grief and be the family we’ve been my whole life.

Last night I finally realized that 1) I needed to grieve, and 2) it’s okay for me to grieve. I need to acknowledge this loss and stop thinking that nothing has changed and it’s just the circle of life and all that nonsense. It’s not. Dom and Brian in F7 never said “goodbye” to each other, and I never got a chance to say goodbye to my Gramma, either. I’m allowed to be sad. And I’m allowed to show that sadness to other people (this is a particularly hard task for me). Our lives don’t always stay on the same road. Sometimes, we have to go in another direction. And nobody says it’s fair or that it’s what we want, but I guess…I guess it’s something we learn to live with as time goes on. I’ve usually taken the stance of “nothing I do will bring [this person] back, so why bother crying about it?” Cry because it HURTS. Cry because when I hit “7” on my phone it still auto-fills Gramma’s number and I can’t even hear her answering machine anymore. Cry because when I have a funny story or good news (or bad news) I can’t call her. Cry because I will never hear her laugh again. Cry because I didn’t realize what a large chunk of my life I’d be losing. Cry because I’m a human being who lost someone important and I’m allowed to grieve.

The FF franchise always puts this huge emphasis on “family doesn’t have to be blood.” And that is true. Another theme is that “nothing is more important than family.” Aas the credits rolled last night, Lindsay and I both feeling a little verklempt, I said goodbye to Paul, his character Brian, and moved onto my next task, almost 3 months late: saying goodbye to Gramma.

Mindless Meanderings

I have a lot of blog posts started and saved as drafts. I can’t seem to complete a thought these days. Or rather, I can’t think of something to say worth sharing. I wonder who is reading and who is genuinely interested, and how to deal with that Venn diagram known as this blog.

I am sitting in my favorite chair at my mom’s house watching Sister Act on blu-ray. You know the part where the “reformed” choir performs for the first time during mass? That’s where I am now. I can’t help but smile whenever I watch this movie, and more specifically this scene. I think that’s why my mom chose this movie the night I went to see her a few months ago when we needed each other in a way we never had before. We wanted to smile in the midst of our sadness. And it totally worked. Because moms, even when they are distraught and hurting, are always right.

I have been thinking a lot about the constant passing of time and how, no matter how much we want to, we can’t stop time. We lost my Gramma two months ago and it already feels like a lifetime since I heard her laugh or boss me around. In the days following her passing, I wanted to stop time, crawl into my bed, and cry until sand was coming out of my tear ducts. I wanted to stop time so that I could compose myself and be the strong daughter my mom taught me to be. I owed her that much. It was time for me to step up and be the daughter I saw my mom be to Gramma. Instead, I cried by Gramma’s casket the morning of her funeral and felt my mom’s hand on my back saying, “It’ll be okay, honey.” How did she do that? How could she see through her grief to comfort mine? Maybe it just proves my meandering thoughts the past few months about the circle of life. Life doesn’t stop because hers did. We will have holidays and family events without her, no matter how much we wish that wasn’t the case. There will be more weddings, more babies, and more general happiness that will feel incomplete without her presence. I told my cousin that now, Gramma won’t miss anything. She’ll still dance at my hypothetical wedding, I just won’t see her. She’ll still guide us through our Christmas cookies in December; we just won’t be able to call her asking for a last-minute substitution for buttermilk.

There is a furry little diva curled up in a ball on the sofa now, having a very vocal dream, This is the first night since I’ve been here (I got here Saturday night) that she has wanted to stay downstairs with me rather than pulling a Greta Garbo and spending her evenings on my mom’s bed.

There is a song that I used to love that goes, “time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along, tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone?” So I can’t stop time. I can’t bring my Gramma back. I can’t snap my fingers and ease my mom’s grief. I can’t make a wish and suddenly have all my cousins in the same room, laughing and playing dress-up with old bridesmaid dresses.

Oh, it’s the part of the big concert with the pope. This scene always gave me chills, but tonight it’s getting me a little teary-eyed, too. The night my mom put this on, we laughed maybe a little harder than usual. Maybe we were just searching so hard for a reason to smile in the midst of our mourning. Maybe we were trying to see the Matriarch, a devout Catholic, in the eyes of one of this movie’s themes, to see the best in people and use our talents for the greater good. To make the best out of a situation we don’t want, but a situation we have. We needed this movie that night, and I suppose I need it tonight.

I have been struggling with the life I’ve created for myself since around my birthday, when I found myself in a bit of an existential crisis. I didn’t really talk about it, because well, who wants to hear it. Most, when I told them about this struggle, brushed it off and told me that I was fine. Obviously I wasn’t in any real trouble. It was just one of those times (and many times since then) that I’ve looked back at my life and said, “Really? This is all I’ve done with myself?”

When the Matriarch passed, someone (in my family, but I honestly can’t remember who) told me that all I can do is live a life that would make her proud. So that got me thinking. A lot. Am I proud of my life? Am I okay with my little river hamlet, a 6-day work week, and an apartment that won’t let me even have a hamster? Gramma wanted me to be happy. So I thought about it. What would make me happy? What would give me a life that I’m proud of…that she’d be proud of, too?

  • A mentally/emotionally fulfilling job (preferably with benefits and paid time off), and only having one instead of two or three
  • Fresh bread for sandwiches (seriously, this is a big deal for me)
  • Helping people
  • Finding a church once and for all, and actually going
  • Doing my dishes after a meal
  • Throwing out food that has gone bad
  • Keeping up with my laundry
  • Volunteering, preferably with veterans or an animal shelter
  • Brushing up on my pysanky skills
  • Letting my cousin teach me to make rosaries
  • Honoring Gramma’s memory (method tbd)
  • Paying my car off
  • Getting back into a workout routine

All of these things are within my grasp. But the toughest one seems to be the most important to me (no, not the dishes one). I guess I’m just not sure where to start. So I popped in Sister Act and started writing. And now, I should probably stop, because I’m afraid that this laptop will literally fall apart in my lap. I suppose she wanted me to think about everything. Now I just make a plan to live a life that will make me smile at the end of the day. So where do I go from here?

Now She’s Done It.

I don’t know if I had mentioned this in previous blog posts, since it has been a long time since I regularly posted, but oh Lord, my mother has done it.

She found the travel bug and made it bite me in the ass.

Around the new year, in the bitterly cold January, I was on the phone with Ma, and she said she wanted to go away for a long weekend, and that she wanted me to go with her. Ma has taken a nice chunk of vacations the past few years, and I’ve typically been the one to stay and be on puppy patrol while holding down her fort. Ever unsure about my job status and perpetual money issues, I told her I just didn’t know if I could swing it. She said that if I could save enough money in five months to afford to take two days off, then I should just throw caution to the wind and say yes.

So I thought about it. I set up a savings account with my bank that automatically transferred $10 of my weekly paycheck into said account. Whatever I had leftover Thursday night, that went in too. A few weeks went by and I told her I’d go.

But she didn’t tell me where.

Fast forward a few weeks to brunch in Downtown Pittsburgh before a show. Over white wine and eggs, I asked her:

So, where are we going?
Not telling you.
Sure, Ma. At least tell me the direction. North, south, east, or west? And do I need to renew my passport?
West. And no.
Denver?
You’re close.
Bah.
We’re going to Santa Fe.
WHAT?!

So this city girl (for lack of a better term) made her way to the wild, wild west, to a city with higher elevation than Denver, and some of the best food I ever ate. Still unsure about the job issue, I told her that if I hadn’t had a job lined up by the time we set out on our journey, there was a 50/50 chance she was going back to Pittsburgh without me. She seemed totally okay with this.

In the months leading up to this trip, I worked. Hard. I begged my editor at the entertainment job to write a feature piece, and I wrote more blurbs when offered. I worked through lunch at the day job, and when Lent started, I worked Friday nights at the bar in addition to my Saturdays. By the time we got into New Mexico, all I wanted to do was sleep. And eat enchiladas. But sadly, I couldn’t do both at the same time.

Two weeks before we were supposed to leave, I was offered (and accepted) an excellent opportunity for a 12-month contract with a Fortune 500 company. I started the Monday before we left, so I had to come back to Pittsburgh. I did vow, though, that the next time I went there, it was via one-way ticket.

This was, quite possibly, one of the most amazing trips of my life. I haven’t been too many places on the globe, but if nothing else, I want to explore my own country. Yes, yes, I love Pittsburgh, and I love going to Charlotte to visit my sister and her family, and I’ll be the first to admit that I ❤ NY (and my cousin will be the first to say I need to move there), but there is so much more I want to see. And going out west did that.

Santa Fe is a pretty laid back town. It’s definitely a tourist town; the metropolis is in Albuquerque (or so I’m told). Maybe it’s the high altitude, or maybe it’s the mole sauce, or maybe it’s all those Zen practices, or the Navajo influence, or whatever…I don’t care, I liked it. And I would easily take a job there.

So I’m back. And don’t get me wrong, I love the new job. I love that it pays me enough that it could be my only job (I tried quitting the bartending gig once…apparently I’m not ready to leave that just yet). But now, now I’m surrounded by all these 23-year-old grads, the majority of whom have spent a year abroad, and travel all the time, and I’m like, where do you get this money? We don’t get paid time off. And all I want to do is explore. I have certain cities I’d like to see, but I figure I have time for that. So I’ll start close and branch out. Eventually I’d like to get to all corners of the country, including Miami for a Cuban sandwich, Maine for a lobster roll, and San Diego for tacos, but let’s not get overzealous.

But I’m overzealous! I need to go!

…because I’m a peacock.

There are places on my absolute Must Visit list. Those include:

  • New Orleans (more specifically, the French Quarter), for some Cajun Crawfish
  • Boston, to see all the history and to toss some tea into the harbor (no, seriously)
  • Louisville, preferably for a Pitt football game, and to see the Maker’s Mark distillery
  • Montreal, to see if I could actually get myself around speaking only French
  • Amarillo, TX, to take a can of spray paint to the Cadillac Ranch
  • Salt Lake City, for awesome food

I’ll be taking at least one of these trips via train. Preferably Boston, but I’m not exactly picky. Now, all I need is a job with paid vacation and I’m pretty much all set!

How Living Alone Helped Me Find Home

In a few weeks, I will celebrate my third anniversary of living in my little apartment in my little borough just north of Pittsburgh. There has only been one place I ever really considered home, and that’s where I grew up. But last night, I noticed that something had changed.

Roughly a year after I had moved here, I started bartending at a local watering hole. Not like that really narrows it down; there are six bars in this little river town and most of the clientele tend to be locals. I’ve never been a regular really anywhere, but working in this bar helped me see what bar regulars are really like. I could write a whole blog post (or hell, a whole book) about my experiences there, but I’ll spare those details. Most of these regulars live alone and, ultimately, just want to get out of the house for a bit, so they find themselves in a local tavern. I’ve seen it turn from getting out of the house to alcoholism, but once more, that’s no matter for the purposes of this post. As I met these people, probably 95% of whom live within walking distance of my bar and my house, I learned that my little borough is a pretty close-knit town. Many grew up here, and many poke fun at me for having grown up on another planet (also known as the South Hills of Pittsburgh). I’ve grown comfortable with these people. They occasionally buy me drinks after my shift and they are always good for a few laughs, some tipsy political debating, and quoting The Princess Bride (among other classics). We’ve discussed everything from world affairs to literature to gossiping about other townies (and now I’m wondering what these people say about me when I’m not around, but I digress). After awhile, I became confident enough to just pop in after work or for a Steelers game without the worry that some creeper missing a few teeth was going to hit on me. I’m okay doing this by myself because I know that these people won’t let any harm come to me.

When I first started bartending, I had four shifts: Tuesday afternoon, Thursday/Friday nights, and every other Sunday afternoon. I made more money in those four days than I ever have with a regular 40-hour per week job. Once more, I digress. Because the bar is only a block and a half away, I walk. It would be silly to drive. One Friday night, or rather Saturday morning, I was walking home after my shift, handbag full of singles and change. It was close to 3am. I saw a squad car pass me roughly four times, and when I got to the front of my building, I stopped, and the squad car stopped as well. Not having done anything wrong other than being out at 3am, I was a little nervous as to why this cop was circling me.

Is everything all right, officer?

You’re the new bartender down the street, right?

That’s right.

I just wanted to make sure you got home okay.

I don’t make those late walks anymore since I only work at the bar on Saturday afternoons, but it was a prelude to the kind of town I had moved into.

A few weeks ago, I had finished an especially long day behind the bar and was enjoying my shift drink. I plopped my handbag and my cocktail next to our cook’s girlfriend, Allie, and we started clucking like hens about anything and everything. Not long into our conversation, the middle-aged woman sitting on the other side of me tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to look after her things while she used the restroom. I told her I would, and after she got up, Allie and I both looked at each other and said, “She’s got to be new in town.” And, she was. Like many transplants into this river town, she had gotten divorced and wanted to find a new community. Allie and I invited her into our conversation and we christened her into our bar with a round of my specialty shots (and I kind of feel bad about that now, because she apparently doesn’t do vodka very well).Allie told her about what to expect in this town. About how within 15 minutes of anything happening, the entire borough knows. About how the people in our bar usually don’t go into others (not counting the members-only clubs), and that each bar has its own unique personality. These are things I have known for awhile. And I thought to myself, am I a townie?

I haven’t really made a new friend in any capacity since college. I keep my social and professional lives separate for the most part. I tried to have work friends once, and that turned into gossip and drama that I didn’t need. But when you work and drink with the same people, those lines tend to blur a little. And I hadn’t even realized that had happened. Just about everybody who works with me is essentially my neighbor. The only exceptions are two bartenders and the owner. What I didn’t notice while it was happening was that over these cocktails and late nights turned early mornings, it’s easy to get to know each other when your inhibitions don’t get in the way. I’m not saying I’ve indulged my deepest, darkest secrets to these people (not like there really are any, but still), but I’ve done something that I don’t do often, and that’s let people in. I didn’t realize this until last night.

Last night, I went to the local watering hole for a surprise birthday party for one of our cooks. My boss was there, along with the usual suspects. The boss bought me a drink and we talked work for a hot minute before he started in on the epic stories of his past. Once our cook was finished in the kitchen, there were a few of us at the bar to celebrate with him. We had a cake, we had a few shots, and we played our favorite songs on the jukebox. And as I laughed with these people, with whom I have worked for two years, it finally dawned on me that we weren’t just coworkers anymore. These people are my friends. And that’s kind of a big deal for me. I find myself talking to these townies, realizing that I have become one. Allie says that’s not a bad thing; it just means that I’ve been accepted into the community. Supposing I hadn’t started working at that watering hole, I imagine I’d be a lot lonelier in my river hamlet. But I don’t have to worry about that now.

It feels good to be home.