20 as 20

To start, I am 38 years old, in case you were unaware. 

I have very little problem with aging.  In fact, I embrace it.  I felt very awkward and weird until I was about 30, and I am loving this stage of my life far more than I did the previous few decades, likely because I have found a well of confidence in myself, due to things like feeling secure in my writing.  I have grown as a person more in the past 8 years than I did in the previous 20, and I am, frankly, very proud of myself.  So, aging does not scare me.

Terrifies the crap out of my husband, though.  He threw his back out not long ago and couldn’t wrap his head around the idea that he just cant lift 150 pounds anymore.  Kevin also has an aging issue, hoping that he is long gone before he ends up in a nursing home or something.  I personally think nursing homes are going to be rocking when were older.  I mean, it’s not like you turn 65 and have to take up knitting and backgammon.  Were gone have Xbox tournaments in our nursing homes, guys.  But I digress.

So, being 38 and aware of my health and such, I am usually comfortable with my limitations.  However, this weekend, there was no time for limits.

Let me tell you briefly about Nick.  Nick and I went to school together since PreK, and he was Kevin’s other best friend when we were kids.  We grew up together through Kev, and by high school, we had become very good friends.  Nick’s greatest talent is music, specifically the drums.  He has been playing since he was a kid, and sometime around the turn of the century he started his first band, Lurid.  I was a fan, though their music was a little heavy for me, but I went to dozens of shows.  Later, they disbanded and he formed Mad Yellow Sun, a band I liked much more, so I attended most of their shows.  After a while, Nick needed to progress, so he packed up his things and moved to Hollywood.  Ever since, he has been teaching music and performing with various groups and touring the world playing his favorite instrument.  I could not be prouder of my friend.

Anyway, a few months ago, Nick sent out a Facebook invite to a show he was doing near Buffalo.  He was going on tour with one of his bands, and I was of course excited to see him.  Thing is, it fell on Friday night…the night before the suicide walk, which was at 8am.  “I can do it,” I tell myself.  “I’ve done it before!”

Yeah, at 20, you idiot.

First of all, I woke up Friday morning and immediately made myself throw up.  Why, you ask?  Think of it as a preventative measure.  I wasn’t about to have some crap sitting in my stomach all morning only to flare up and make me sick on this, the day of days.  I took some Zofran and some Xanax and drank some coffee and was fine.  It was a good sign.

Around 530pm, Kevin and Johnny came over to pregame.  I went and got ready, taking a shower and getting dressed and putting on actual makeup.  I learned who my true friends are when I applied new foundation and Mark and John said I looked great, but Kevin told me “I cannot let you leave the house like that.”  Always got my back, that one.  As I reapplied, I thought of all the nights spent on someone’s kitchen floor getting ready for a “Nick show” back in the day.  I was momentarily grateful that it no longer took me two hours to get ready, though, even with the makeup reapplication. 

Eventually I was on the road, but, as it is when you are trying to be 20, it was one damn thing after another.  First, my sister, who was supposed to come, lost her ID.  Then my cousin decided to stay home.  Then Bern found ID, but didn’t go because Erin stayed.  Then my lighter died, so I had to get a new one.  Then, I had to go to the bank.  Then, I had to drive to flippin Tonawanda, which is a good 30 minutes from my house in South Buffalo.  By the time I got there and found parking I was terrified I was late.  Alas, no.

I saw him standing there talking to a group of people I don’t know. I waited for a lull in the conversation, and then said “Hi, Nicki.”

Nick’s reactions to seeing someone he misses are intense.  He is a hugger extraordinaire, and has the ability to make you feel as though you are the most important person in the room.  Which, I suppose is a good quality for a performer, but when you’re his friend, it truly is a genuine moment.  He tells me his mother is inside the bar.  Now, let me tell you about Joanne.

As there has always been me, Kevin, and Nick, there has also always been my mother, Sharon, and Joanne.  Sharon is Kev’s mother and I have always thought of her as my aunt, and another maternal presence in my life, as she helped raise me up as much as my mother helped raise up Kev.  Then Joanne, whom I because close to during my very tumultuous teen years, and a time when I felt like I couldn’t express things to my own mother.  She stepped in and filled that role whenever I needed her to.  She always was there for me, and for Kevin as well should he need her.  She still calls us her “babies.”  A while back, Jo got sick.  She has been battling some vicious cancer for a couple years now, and I haven’t been able to see her because she lives in North Carolina.  So, to hear she was mere feet away at the bar was incredible news, just as good as seeing Nick play again.

After greeting everyone and freaking out over Joanne being there, I ordered a drink and posted up by the window to take in the scene.  I need moments like this in crowded places, so as to keep myself grounded and not panicky.  An older gentleman sidled up beside me and started chatting me up.  After a little conversation he tells me that he hopes I’m not “weirded out by the old guy hitting on you.”  I tell him I’m not, and I’m flattered, but taken.  He smiles and tells me to have a good night and is on his way, and it makes me realize that this never would have happened if I were 20.

First of all, I didn’t have the confidence then that I do now and probably wouldn’t even have registered that the guy was interested.  Secondly, he never would have spoken to me because that would mean breaking me away from the pack I traveled in once upon a time.  If I’d had half a brain back then, I would have got a drink and stood alone for five minutes.  Could have met a guy instantly!  Again, I digress…

Eventually Nick goes on and plays better than I’ve heard, because it’s been like ten years since I saw him perform last.  I started to feel woozy mid-set, however, and went out for some air.  Jo was also outside feeling icky, and I told her I had to go.  I felt bad leaving early, particularly because I would have liked to spend some more time with Nick and her, but I couldn’t risk illness.  My attempt to relive my 20s wasn’t over yet.  I drove home and took my meds and went to bed…eventually.  I was weirdly amped up and tossed and turned all night.

I don’t know how I woke up at 7am feeling well, but I did, and it was a miracle.  8am found us out the door and headed downtown, and I thought of things like how I used to go party all night and then work a shift the next day.  How crazy!  I was so tired, and a little hungover.  Two beers might not be much for most people, but I am a lightweight who barely drinks, and I was feeling those Blue Moon’s from the bar that morning.

The walk was lovely.  It was bigger than last year’s experience which was significantly downgraded due to the pandemic, but it was still fairly small.  They spaced everything out nicely, and staggered arrival times for participants, so it wasn’t too crowded.  I raised 710$ this year, and was congratulated by the registration lady.  They gave me a t-shirt, they took our picture, and we walked around and looked at the info tables and basket raffle and such.  Then, we took a little walk, not as much as I would have liked to but as previously stated I was hungover and also my leg was killing me for some unknown reasons; probably the boots I chose to wear the night before.

Then, back to the car and home again and change of clothes and pack a bag and time for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  What’s that you say?  Its’ September?  Well, that means we are halfway there, so let’s do it up right!

Except they didn’t.  I’d like to say it was fun, and I guess it was to see people out and to be out myself, but the parade itself was lame.  Usually the best one (when held on actual St. Paddy’s Day,) this was just kind of sad.  It was a handful of families, a couple of bars with floats, a single pipe and drum band, and 4 politicians (and not even the one I’m voting for.)  Add in three fire trucks and a weird procession of Jeeps, and you have the entire parade.  No real music, no dancers, nothing.  Yawn.

Speaking of yawns, by the time I got home it was around 2pm and I was exhausted, I watched a little tv and then passed out on the couch.  I spent 20 hours acting like I was 20-drinking and partying and not sleeping and overexerting. 

And it was a blast, but, as I stated in the beginning…I like my 30s.  I like the pace I’ve got going here, and I hope it continues into the next decade.  As much fun as I had in that 20 hours is also as much exhaustion as I faced.  I have to face it-I am a one event per 24-hour period person now.

Still, it is joyous to grab those little moments where you can remember yourself in your youth, and I felt that this weekend, particularly on Friday night.  For a moment while I listed to Nick play, I’m sure, that in the right light, you could have sworn I was only 20 years old.

The People in my Neighborhood

This morning as I was getting coffee with mom, I told her about how much I enjoyed my childhood in Riverside, a northwestern neighborhood in Buffalo.  Now, time has changed this place that I once called home and if I’m perfectly honest with you, you couldn’t get me to move back there with a free house and a new car.  However, when I was a child it was a wonderland. 

My favorite TV show was Sesame Street.  I watched it every day while I ate my lunch, and somehow, I had it in my head that my street, Tonawanda St., was my own personal Sesame Street.  There weren’t any kids on the street until I was about six, so I turned all the shopkeepers into my friends.

At the corner of my block was a restaurant called Nuchereno’s.  Now, the Nucherno family owned a lot of stuff in Riverside, and probably still do-I know they at least still have the auto shop.  But the restaurant was the piece de resistance.  I would only eat the spaghetti and meatballs there but it was the best spaghetti and meatballs, ever.  And in my little mind, this moderately priced restaurant was the epitome of fine dining.  We always went there when family and friends were in town, or even just to Sunday dinner with Ka and Grammy. 

A little closer to the house you had Tony’s barber shop, where my dad would go to get his hair cut.  I only went in once and remember being very aware that this was not a place for little girls.  I do recall asking Tony if he kept his combs in blue Kool-Aid, not knowing it was sanitizer.

Next to the barber was Nuchereno Liquors.  I LOVED the liquor store.  First of all, there was a beagle named Sam that hung out there and the owner Mike was always nice to me and let me play with her.  I knew it was a place for grownups, but he never told me to get away from the store front and he always let me in-I recall believing that it was a safe place for me, despite catering to the local drunks.  I loved the smell of it too, and the pretty bottles on the shelves…I even practiced my reading on some of them.

Past our house and a little further down there was the salon where my mom got her hair done, The Hair Oasis.  I recall wanting to go there when I got older, and got my wish for my Junior prom when my mother took me there for an updo.  It had a real old school salon vibe, and there were always neighborhood ladies getting their hair and nails done and chit-chatting.  A little further down was the Shaggy Dog hot dog stand, which I loved to go for dinner at.  They had big vats of honey that they kept to keep the bees busy and away from your food, and I loved watching them, even though mom warned me not to get too close.

Then came the bakery whose name escapes me, but it is long gone.  Here’s what I recall of that:  a huge wedding cake in the window, that had a fountain of punch built into it.  I remember mom or someone saying it was tacky, but I loved it and swore I would have the same at my wedding (of course, I didn’t.  It was totally tacky.)  They also had these smiley face cookies I really liked, and sometimes the baker would give me 2 for 1. 

The florist was after that, and they, too, had a dog, a big golden retriever that laid around the shop all day.  Even if we weren’t buying anything, the owner let me come in to visit.  Really, all the shop keeps were like that-they all knew my name and greeted me when they saw me coming down the street.  Reid’s Delicatessen was after that, and I remember one day I went in with a red balloon and accidentally let it go, and it flew into the ceiling fan and popped.  The owner gave me a free lollipop for my trouble.

There was the library, which I have already written about, and then finally the hardware store, True Value.  Another shop I loved the smell of.  I also loved all the little bins full of “treasures:” nuts and bolts and nails and such.  Across from the hardware store was Marine Midland bank, where Grammy did her banking, and the B-Quik, for your quick shopping needs.  I vaguely recall these places, but they were, in my mind, “at the end of the street.”  (The street, mind you, definitely goes on for at least another mile after that.)

Anyway, you take all these little places, and then add in the huge park/playground/pool situation across the street from our house, and in retrospect it was the perfect place to spend the first few years of my life.  Obviously times have changed…for instance, after we moved to Kenmore, a suburb of Buffalo that was MUCH safer, my mother still didn’t let my sister ride her bike around the block until she was nearly ten.  I was riding my tricycle around the block in Riverside at four.  Times change…and so did that little neighborhood.

Once about fifteen years ago I was at the park with mom and Sharon, my backup-mother.  We spoke to the people that owned the old house, and they were kind enough to give us a tour.  They changed a lot, like the bathroom was completely redone, but it still had the same old bones and was nice to see inside.  I could write epics about that house, I loved it so much, but this is about the neighborhood that surrounded it.  I could tell you about the people too:  the kids that finally came and befriended me, and how I was so sad to say goodbye to them when we moved.  But again, this is about other people: adults.  Adults who barely knew me from a hole in the wall but made me feel safe and protected in a place that was losing its safety. 

I don’t know what happened to any of those people.  All those businesses are closed now, I believe…except maybe the liquor store.  I went there once about ten years ago to pick up a bottle of wine.  Mike is gone, I think he passed, and Sam certainly did, but there was another dog roaming the aisles and that made me smile.

I have wonderful memories of my childhood in Riverside, and while the neighborhood has changed, I will never forget growing up there.  It may have been flawed to some, but it was absolutely perfect to me.

The Music of Our Youth

I suppose I can credit my love of music to my parents.  My mom played guitar and sang to me every night.  My father always had music playing from his extensive record collection.  My mom was in glee club in high school, and my dad worked at a radio station in college.  If reading was the number one thing they taught me, music was the second.

Unfortunately, I have no musical talent whatsoever.  I can play a little piano, but that’s it.  Can’t even sing, really, thought I do at nearly any given opportunity.  I was in chorus in grade school but couldn’t hack it when I got to high school.  I once tried to teach myself harmonica…another failure.  I just haven’t got it.

However, I have excellent rhythm.  I can notice the smallest changes in a beat.  So, when Kevin became interested in making music when we were teenagers, I became his second set of ears.  It was as close to the making of the music as I would ever get.

Anyway…

I saw this thing on the socials about albums that have affected you. I found this to be cool for two reasons.  First of all, I am always on the lookout for new tunes.  Also, I love hearing what songs and artists really mean something special to people.  Then I saw a comment on one of these threads from my aunt, about how she didn’t even take into account the records from her youth.  I did not, either, as I sat there thinking about what albums have influenced me.  So yesterday while I was cleaning, I stumbled upon my CD collection, and gave it a once-over.  It brought back some fine memories, and a list of songs I now need to add to my Spotify playlist.

Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morrissette was the first CD I ever owned, given to me by my Aunt Moe on my 12th birthday.  I recall her being concerned about the language and my mother not actually caring, which was a surprising turn of events.  I listened to it so much that it stopped playing after a while, and that’s around the time I picked some copies of No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom and Harvey Danger’s Where Have all the Merrymakers Gone? at a recently opened used record shop in neighborhood.  I had heard one song from each album on the radio and had ten bucks burning a hole in my pocket. The No Doubt album got a lot of play, but the Harvey Danger one goes on my all-time top five list, easy.  There is not a song on that record that I don’t still know the words too, and I have most of it saved on a Spotify playlist that I listen to regularly.  

Somewhere along the way I stumbled onto The Wallflowers and Bringing Down the Horse.  I was amazed years later when I discovered that the lead singer was Bob Dylan’s son (who is my number one lyricist of all time.) I played that one until I accidentally left it on the deck during a rainstorm and it got destroyed.

The last records I recall making an impact on my youth were So Much for the Afterglow by Everclear and Dizzy Up the Girl by the Goo Goo Dolls.  I discovered the former as I also discovered my depression, and it spoke to that in a way I could not yet find the words for.  Then came our hometown boys, whose songs on the radio I had liked.  I got that record for Christmas when I was seventeen, I think.  That year was a turning point for me, and is pretty much the age I consider my childhood to have ended, and Dizzy helped me deal with that.

I have another Spotify playlist called Twentysomethings, which has a lot of music I listened to in my 20s, and I think I will have to give that a browse next.  I enjoy listening to songs I used to love because they remind me of people and things I used to love.  Circumstances weren’t always great but music was always on my side, and I am glad I had that friend in those lonely times. 

You know what would be great?  If you, dear reader, left a comment with some tunes from your youth that you loved.  I think that if I got enough, I could make a pretty killer playlist.

Curling Irons and Eyeliner

Deadlines blown like the veins in my arms.

Though not my writing deadline.  I wrote the below before the big sick hit me again, and I ended up back in my bed at Mercy hoping and trying to keep the dragon in my stomach at bay.  It’s been an intensely crap week.  There was a little bright spot that I’m happy to share, however.  When I sent out those poems a while back, I got a nibble, and one of them will be featured in Ghost City Press August issue.  So that made me feel better while my body took care of making me feel worse. Enough of this sad stuff.  Let’s get nostalgic.

***

The other day I watched as a young girl sat on her living room floor in front of a full-length mirror, wearing one of three outfit changes that day, frantically trying to curl her hair so that it looks just the way she wants for her birthday party.

Remember that girl? We were those girls.

Growing up with Kevin led me to a friend circle that was mostly male, but going to an all-girls school definitely gave me a strong circle of female friends as well.  I remember many nights at my friend Christina’s getting ready for dances and parties, and later, when older and out of high school like the girl I just described, living on the cusp of our twenties, I would find myself applying makeup on Molly’s kitchen floor.  How many nights of hair dye and nail polish did we live through?

My taste in makeup evolved over time.  I was never very good at it, and I always bought the cheap stuff, and to this day will remember the time I spent 20 bucks on a tube of lipstick.  It seemed so extravagant.  Of course, now I use 40-dollar face cream in little droplets like it’s made with real gold.  I don’t dye my hair crazy colors, though it has been a few.  And I don’t try on twelve outfits anymore, I pretty much always know the look I want and feel comfortable with.  Which is all part of growing up.

I often talk to Bernie about youth, because she is in it, a precious 21-year-old who has never eaten a tide pod and will vote for gun control.  It is the youth I see through her that makes me know the world is going to be alright.  It is.  There are some super bright young people out there and we are not giving them enough attention.  But I digress…

I like looking back to my youth through her, but the part that’s really amazing is knowing how much easier that stuff gets.  It takes me a full 30 minutes to get ready to go out now, something that once took hours of my day.  I am comfortable in how I look, something I could not say was true of my twenties.  I don’t need to spend two hours curling my hair because I can do it in less than a half hour now, and I wouldn’t anyways because my god!  So much work for so little payoff.

Being young is beautiful, but so is growing older.  I think that as we age we fall into deeper versions of ourselves, getting in touch with who we really are and shrugging off the baggage that we don’t need anymore.  I don’t NEED to spend an hour on Molly’s floor trying to perfect a wing-tipped eye.

But damn, if it wasn’t fun.