Posts Tagged ‘1980s’

Slumlord Hero

Posted: August 17, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

November 10th, 2010

Things you need to know, in no particular order:

It was 1984.

I was 18.

I lived with my oldest sister, Molly.

The two girls who moved into the top floor of our building had never thrown a party before.

I was new to Cincinnati, having migrated from Western New York to attend Xavier Jesuit


I had a desperate crush on my best friend, Bob, from our all-boys high school back home.

He didn’t know.

Neither did anybody else.


Our landlord lived in the apartment next to ours.

Our landlord was friendly in a way that made you wonder if he had ever sold used cars.

Our landlord’s name was ‘Larry.’

He reminded me of Larry Tate from Bewitched, in name, looks, and personality.

Larry’s wife was Ann, a gentle woman who smiled at us each morning as she left for a professional office job.

Larry stayed at home to landlord.

Molly and I tried to figure out how Larry ever managed to entice somebody as sweet and (apparently) saavy as Ann.

We failed.


Our apartment had a glamour that only turn-of-the-century apartment high rises can provide.

The two of us shared three bedrooms, two living rooms, a kitchen and bath.

Most of the rooms had grand, marble-mantled fireplaces and soaring, twelve-foot ceilings.

The apartment was affordable because of the neighborhood.

People who looked like they might earn most of their income from drug deals hung around our front steps.

A sign ‘PARK AT YOUR OWN RISK’ hung over the back steps.

We lived on the fourth floor.

The elevator didn’t work.

When we asked Larry about this, he laughed and said, ‘Oh, it’s an old dog like me, haha!’

I made frequent trips down the four flights to see if any letters from Bob had arrived in our gold-gilded mailbox.

It was a long walk back up.


As I mentioned, two girls moved onto the sixth floor.

They were college-age like me.

One looked like Mary Lou Retton; the other, Blair from The Facts of Life.

I helped them carry their stuff up.


Larry wouldn’t fire up the building’s boiler until well into October.

Molly and I were chilly.

‘Ann and I like it crisp – haha!’ he said cheerfully, when we asked for heat.


The whole building was invited to the sixth-floor apartment-warming.

Molly had to work, so I went alone.

Forty people with beer cups crowded around a keg.

The spacious apartment did not feel crowded.

There were lots of nice-looking guys my age.

Larry was there.

Hostess #1 made a point to introduce me to her single girlfriend.

I started drinking right away.

On my fourth trip to the keg, I overheard Hostess #2 telling a story to several All-American college guys.

And Larry.

In fact, they were talking about Larry.

I joined them.

It seems, earlier in the evening, one of the hostesses’ guests had poured a beer out of the sixth-floor window.

It landed on one of the Potential-Drug-Dealers’ heads.

Despite the six-floor climb, he showed up almost immediately and banged on the door.

He screamed at Hostess #2, who answered.

Larry intervened, beer in hand, and diffused the situation.

‘Here,’ he said, putting his arm around the P-D-D and leading him to the keg, ‘one for your head and one for your belly – haha!’

I groaned, sensing where this was heading.

Hadn’t the girls figured Larry out yet?

Didn’t his clammy handshake tell it all?

Wasn’t the broken elevator the first of many clues?

‘Larry is our hero,’ Hostess #2 added.

I burst out laughing.

Which garnered her attention.

‘I don’t understand why you’re laughing,’ she said.

‘I was really scared,’ she said more loudly.

‘I think you’re an asshole,’ she said even more loudly.

I slunk away, reaching exponential levels of longing for Bob and home and high school and all the people who didn’t think I was an asshole, as I returned to conversation with Hostess #1’s single girlfriend.

Larry continued to baste in praise from the keg crowd.


For fun, I post my stuff at
For serious, I post my stuff at
I invite you to visit my stuff.

Soap Opera Hair

Posted: August 17, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

August 31st, 2010

I sit here in the barbershop, looking over the posters of coiffed twenty-something men (boys, I want to say, but that just makes me feel older) and I feel it slip tenderly away. Tender, not like ‘gee, what a tender scene in Tarzan when he bids his ape-mother goodbye.’ Tender like ‘I smashed my finger in the car door yesterday and it’s still pretty damn tender.’

I will never be on a soap opera.

I will never have that feeling they all must feel. To show up on the set every working day and stand in the lights. To deliver those serious, soap opera lines to all the beautiful people while the cameras roll; to joke around with all of them when the cameras are off. To step outside the studio and maneuver through throngs of adoring fans on my way to drinks at a co-worker’s penthouse.

Honestly, it’s not like I had a real shot at being a member of a soap opera cast. It’s just that I used to have soap opera hair. Thick, ready-to-be-blown-dry, with just a hint of a wave. My full brown mane flowed naturally from my scalp, its growth rate causing my father angst every time he ‘shelled out another $7 for a haircut’ — a fee that he felt was a necessary evil in the inflating economy of the 70s.

At the beginning, I didn’t care. I was just a kid; hair was just on my head. But then as barbers segued to hairstylists in my teens and $7 became 12, the professionals started making a fuss. “I’d kill to have your hair.” “Oh you have such thick locks.”

My hair pride grew.

Around that time I joined my older sisters watching soap operas. As the World Turns, Guiding Light, and the family favorite, All My Children. It’s not like I really needed to be a part of the cast. But as I saw all the handsome guys with their own thick locks and their polished smiles, I liked knowing, somewhere inside, that I too had the hair to be on a soap opera.

Not the star, mind you…but maybe an alcoholic gay son of thrice-divorced parents. Or an adopted teen of the town’s rich-and-widowed matriarch whose kleptomania kept him from really connecting with people. You know. Soap opera.

For a while in my own twenty-something years, I carried a torn out ad from the TV Guide in my wallet. It showed a guy and girl from As the World Turns, standing at a wedding. “I want my hair cut like his,” I’d say to the hairstylist at Regis Cuts, or at JC Penny’s Salon, pulling out the folded, slightly torn photo. They’d nod and cut, as though everybody pulled out a TV Guide ad. As though everybody had soap opera hair. But twenty became thirty, and thirty became forty.

IT happened in stages.

First, the top of my head became painfully sensitive while on a summer vacation. I couldn’t figure out why. “You got a sunburn,” an older, matronly traveling companion told me, after I asked her to examine my tortured scalp.

THEN the hairstylists stopped commenting on the thickness of my locks. How much fun it was to blow dry. Whether I would like gel.

THEN brown became flecked with gray. More grew in my nose and less on my head.

THEN people started commenting, not on my hair, but on my lack of hair. “You look so much like your father,” my dad’s cousin said when I visited her one day. My dad. A balding, overweight, average guy.

Back in the barbershop, I watch my reflection and think about him, my dad. He never seemed like soap opera material. I never saw anyone on All My Children like him. My spirits sink.

But then, in the mirror, as the Vietnamese barber runs his electric trimmer (“So easy,” he comments, when I tell him to simply cut it all at a setting of “one”)…then…

I spot a big clump of my hair as it plops on the floor.

The clump gives comfort.

Somehow, it tells me I’m still producing.

I may look like my father.

But I see me in there too, that former potential soap opera character. Something inside my head loosens.

Maybe someday I’ll still write a bestseller like Stephen King.

Maybe someday I’ll still sing a duet with a famous performer like kd lang.

Maybe someday I’ll still have lunch at the White House for an as-yet unrecognized talent.

And maybe, just maybe, I still have the chance to feel fulfilled.

Even if I’m never on a soap opera.

For fun, I put my stuff on

For serious, I put my stuff on

I invite you to visit my stuff.

Wooden Skateboard

Posted: August 17, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

July 4th, 2010

You’re not smiling. Probably because you’re out of quarters for video games or maybe because it’s really hot.

It’s the summertime heat that drove all three of you to the grassy shade near the Zoom Flume that day at King’s Island. Your sister’s friend Caroline, with her dark skin and dark humor that always makes you belly-laugh. Your sister Kathy, back when people said she looked like Sheena Easton. Back when people knew who Sheena Easton was.

And you.

I’m guessing you were fifteen at that point, give or take a few hormones. 1981. Those glasses – the big plastic frames that broke when you fell off the front of the skateboard and Dad “fixed them just fine, goddamn it” with superglue. Remember that skateboard from fifth grade?

All the guys at Saint Michael’s had one, so you asked and begged for one – even though Mom and Dad had two mortgages and money was so tight. But your birthday was coming, so Mom took you to Wayne Drugs, which had items like sport equipment and five-year diaries under one roof. You studied the skateboard display: hard-plastic skateboards – in flashy colors with a lip on the back to ‘pop a wheelie’ and do the stunts that were not yet a fad. Next to them, sturdy, wooden skateboards – with red racing stripes and resin wheels, guaranteed to sail across the pavement.

Your friend Chuckie had a wooden skateboard. He acted so cool riding around the parking lot behind school, so you picked one just like his and you could hardly wait to tell him the next day that you would be getting a skateboard for your birthday.

But – the next day – when you got to the playground and told of your proud, soon-to-be-part-of-the-skateboard-crowd status, Chuckie squinched his face tight and said, “You coulda got a plastic skateboard and you picked a wooden one?”

# # #

At forty-four, I think of you often. I get caught up in the glorification of then and the denegration of now. Life now seems complex and difficult. Your life at fifteen, through the murky channels of memory, seems graced, and lucky, and full of promise. In my mind, I look back and envy your full hair, your slim hips tucked neatly inside white painter’s pants – your certainty that life holds something grand just for you, waiting to be awarded in a fantastic ceremony of lights and applause.

But I look at this photo and I think about your wooden skateboard.


For fun, I post my stuff at
For serious, I post my stuff at
I invite you to visit my stuff.