To be cliché, the summer of ’09 was an emotional rollercoaster for yours truly. It started on the high that comes with true and devoted love, and the implicit freedom of spirit that summer brings. It ended…well, south of there. But not before going through loops and twists, screeching dives and nerve-melting climbs.
My less-than-prolific writing for the page in the last couple of months has had everything to do with my relationship with Girlfriend dying a valiant but painful death. I’ve never written a country song, so heartache and beers don’t go together well for me. My time spent at watering holes and social events dropped to about an eighth of what it normally was, including a solid month where I stayed away from nightlife all together. I missed a raucous celebration at Barroom for Baby Joey’s birthday, a drunken “Jam on Walnut” concert in July, South Side shenanigans, guys’ nights at strip clubs, and much more, all while alternating between trying to piece together my love life and trying to piece together my sanity.
When I finally did manage to put the woes of my personal life aside for a night here and there, my friends did their utmost to make sure that I—and by extension, On the Rocks—was provided with quality happenings and material. The catch is that the next day I was always right back in reality; nursing a hangover in both my heart and my head, and uninterested in scribing about the sights, sounds, and laughs that had been had.
Now, after two months, I’ve decided to gather those random anecdotes that have been sitting dormant in my memory banks while I’ve let my wounds heal. And, given the change of the season and the self-reflection that comes with saying goodbye to another summer—not to mention, that which comes with saying goodbye to someone incredibly special to me—I’ve put it all into a list of lessons that the summer of 2009 has taught me. I’m not abandoning humor altogether, of course. Nothing helps cure pain better than laughter; but forgive me for expressing a bit more sentiment than one might come to expect from a typical “On the Rocks” writing. So, in no particular order…
- Tequila is a bitch–and I’m not talking about Tila. Although I’m sure Shawne Merriman wouldn’t disagree if I were. Shots of Patron were inexplicably made a key part of Chappy’s birthday celebration one Saturday in late August. The next day sunlight felt like lasers being beamed through my retinas. A week later, at TK’s birthday party, I was guilted into doing two shots of Cuervo. I ended the night relatively sober, but still felt like I was going to die the following morning. Maybe it’s just a sign of my age—I used to drink the stuff (ironically) on the rocks. But now it’s liquid H1N1 to me.
- Chappy’s a clever little rascal. The morning after his birthday partying, I awoke to a voicemail from him on my phone. “Hey buddy. I hid a bottle of Gatorade in your kitchen so [LRG] and Toe wouldn’t drink it, but I forgot about it. If you want it, it’s in the cupboard above your fridge.” I went to the cabinet and, sure enough, there was a delicious blue “morning after pill” (a 32 oz. bottle of Gatorade) tucked away next to the microwaveable popcorn. I was thoroughly impressed—I didn’t even think the diminutive guy could reach all the way up there.
- Cleverness, however, does not translate into fashion sense. After making his final wardrobe preparations for a birthday spent hitting the Shadyside bars, Chappy emerged from the bedroom of my apartment wearing a tight, military gray button down shirt with straps on the shoulders. Me: “Hey look, it’s Pat Benatar!” TJ: “Dawg, Fidel Castro is in Shadyside!” Me: *everyone’s laughing* “Don’t listen to them, Chappy. Love is a battlefield.”
- 60 percent of the time, it works EVERY time. LRG made a faux pas of his own: too much cologne. When he walked into the living room after getting ready, a Chernobyl cloud of musk engulfed all of us. TJ: “Go easy on the ‘Sex Panther,’ son!”
- There may never be another icon in music as big as Michael Jackson. In these fast-paced, bottom line-driven days of Twittering-induced media frenzies, stress-induced burnouts, and substance abuse-induced rehab stints, no one man or woman is capable of standing as a polarizing pop idol. The global scale of the mourning, and the number of impromptu public memorials that took place within 24 hours of Michael’s passing were mind-blowing. And this was after the last 20 years of his life, which were fraught with accusations, oddities, and controversy that tainted many people’s perceptions of him. Love him or hate him, each and every one of you ultimately knew his name and his songs. What other human being has ever been that famous? There are foreign countries where you can say “Elvis Pressley” and be met with a blank stare; or mention Jay-Z’s name, and no one even notices. But all of them—every last one of them—knew who Michael Jackson was.
- Beer pong has come to the hood. Not that you’ll be seeing Game and Kanye playing in a video anytime soon. But when I went to Baltimore for my cousin’s wedding in May, I found myself playing the sport of frat boys on the front porch of another cousin’s row house, while a world that the majority of my fellow W&J alumni have only seen on The Wire buzzed on the streets and alleys all around me.
- Tigers love pepper. But they hate cinnamon.
- Streets were made for dancing, not driving. About 15 to 20 of my friends and I were at Carson City Saloon for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals to watch our Penguins win it all. Watching the game itself—a packed bar; live news coverage with one of the local sports anchors on the scene; beers, shots, and food with friends; and nothing but black and gold Pens shirts and jerseys as far as the eye could see—was exciting, but the moments after the game clock ticked “00:00” were sheer mayhem. Beer sprayed in every which direction inside of the bar, and a deafening roar felt like it would blow out the windows. In an instant I was standing in the middle of Carson Street, still screaming my lungs out. People, almost all of whom were complete strangers, were shouting with me, high-fiving, dapping, hugging. Looking back at the doors of CC Saloon, I saw Pakistanimal standing on the steps, screaming and pointing back at me. Dupa and Shock B. joined six or seven other people in climbing atop a Dodge Durango that had the misfortune of being at the stoplight as revelers poured from every doorway and collided in a wash of jerseys, mock Stanley Cups, and uncontrollable exhilaration. Even Sheldon Ingram, the WTAE sports anchor who had been filming live on location, sat on the roof of the Durango, reporting the bedlam to a rolling camera.
- It’s never too early for a good frozen margarita. Pakistanimal and I went downtown for the Penguins’ victory parade the following Monday morning. While we waited for Chappy to meet up with us, we each decided to order a drink at Easy Street to pass the time. I soon had a new favorite breakfast food.
- Even though two people love each other, that doesn’t mean that they should be together. We often overlook the wrongs that our significant others do, focusing instead on the good. But sometimes it’s the person you care about the most that can cut you the deepest, and everyone has a limit.
- Experience can trump youth. At TK’s party, Tony and I stepped up to the beer pong table expecting a battle, as we were two of the oldest people in attendance. Some of our opponents would be less than a year removed from college. In the end we went 6-0, though, only facing one serious challenge where the game was taken into overtime.
- Alcohol can trump experience. The quote of the day on Chappy’s birthday belonged to LRG, as he tried to persuade Toe to approach two plus-sized girls with him. “They’re fat, but we’re drunk. That equals…happiness.”
- You can get drunk off of meat. Brazilian grills—such as Green Forest Cafe in Penn Hills, PA—are godsends. Girlfriend, Sherif, Dupa, and I made a trip to Green Forest one Saturday in early July, and I wobbled away three hours later feeling woozy.
- There’s a fanboy (or girl) inside all of us. Dupa, TJ, and I caught the midnight release of Transformers II: Revenge of the Fallen in June (after dinner and drinks with Pakistanimal at Bar Louie) in a packed-to-the-exits, under-air-conditioned theater. While waiting for the lights to dim, I updated my Facebook status to one that confessed my inner geek. Quickly friends of mine from all around the country chimed in to say they were either at multiplexes too, or planned to be in the next several hours. One female friend and her husband were even at the same Loews, a couple of theaters down the hall.
- If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.
- Germans know how to party. Hofbrauhaus, a new German restaurant and microbrewery in the South Side Works, has quickly gained accolades from the area’s professional drinkers. They serve their “biers”—all of which are delicious—in litre glass steins. And, on a good night, the place is packed with people, loud music, and singing. Prince of Ligonier held a birthday party for his wife there one night in June, giving Dupa, TJ, and I our first experiences with this new arena. At one point I turned to our group and said, “I just saw an Asian girl standing on a table in a German restaurant, singing Neil Diamond. I don’t know what the hell is going on, but I like it!” That night we also had our first experience with a shotski…
- Shotskis are like your friend’s little sister: tempting and fun, but dangerous. TJ’s friend “Yum” recently moved into the region, and came to a cookout at Chappy’s equipped with a shotski from the bar where she works. A few rounds of those had our collection of scoundrels woozy; and, it being my first night of drinking following the aforementioned month on the sidelines, I sped towards a blackout.
- There’s a reason he’s called “Pakistanimal”. As bad as I was, he was worse. By 11 pm he was vomiting in the middle of the street in front of Chappy’s house, which sits in a very quiet, respectable suburban neighborhood. Not long after that he was shirtless—prominent brown belly glistening under the streetlights—and challenging all comers. Thankfully his girlfriend was on hand to take him home before he could even try to accompany the rest of us to the bar.
- Misery loves company. When my friend Sales Machine invited me to his house for some poker this past weekend, I accepted. My prime motivation was hanging out with Machine, who lives a pretty fair distance from Pittsburgh and has a family—and, thus, rarely comes out on weekends. On top of that, it was a chance to play cards. But also, beyond all, was my desire to once again put my personal trials out of my head for at least a few hours. Unfortunately, I soon learned that night that Machine and his wife are going through an increasingly worse rough patch of their own, and that it had spurred his interest in my breakup all the more. I wanted to concentrate on how to play my wired 7s from middle position, and he wanted to drink cognac and talk about why I wasn’t able to work things out with my ex.
- If you’re throwing a party and want it to be classy, have girls plan it; if you want anarchy, let boys plan it. Over three and a half years ago, a group of our female friends (Mrs. T.C., Heather, and Abbie being prominent among them) threw a “Black and White Party” in the pool house/ event center in Heather’s apartment complex. The center is elegantly decorated, with a large flat screen TV in the living room section, a kitchen with sinks, a dishwasher, refrigerator, dishes, and anything else one would need. And the girls made sure that they had the place perfectly prepared for a “formal” party, with rows upon rows of liquor bottles ready to go in the kitchen, beer pong on a folding table set up in the linoleum-floored hallway, and a plentiful menu of party foods and appetizers. Dupa and TK now live in the same apartment plan, and chose to use this same event center for TK’s birthday. The result? Beer pong set up on the two expensive tables (which had been pushed together) in the carpeted dining room area. Kegs sitting on the finely-tiled kitchen floors, sans tubs, with ice melting into water puddles that flooded the kitchen and created footing so treacherous that you were guaranteed to slip when walking across it. No food on hand, leaving guests to fend for themselves, some of us ordering pizza while others made Mickey D’s runs. And the tequila to which I referred earlier was the only bottle of liquor on hand.
- Jealousy is toxic. It can poison and destroy even the strongest of loves. It may seem like a minor glitch, an insignificant speck on an otherwise spotless bond. But when deep insecurities are feeding into that jealousy, the situation will only get worse, regardless of what you try to do to fight it.
- Caipirinhas are magical. Unfortunately, living in Pittsburgh significantly decreases their availability to me. But from now on, when I can find one, I will seize the opportunity.
- There is a special deal going on with travel agencies booking trips to Las Vegas. And, apparently, only girls know about it: Groups of four or more get a discount on rooms and flights if they take pictures at the hotel pool, and someone from the group then posts them on Facebook. Now admittedly, this is just a theory of mine. But no less than six of my female friends—all from different circles of friends—went on “girls’ trips” to Vegas with their various gal pals this summer. And every single one of them has produced a series of group pictures taken at the extravagant Vegas hotel pools. Most of the photos look as though they were captured at the same pool, even in the same exact spot. It’s almost as if the hotel has a prom photographer set up in a designated poolside location taking a never-ending series of the prerequisite “girlfriends” pictures. [Not that I’m complaining, ladies. Now that I’m a single man again, it’s a welcome distraction during my workday. Keep ‘em coming.]
- Jay Swag may be the funniest drunk I know. August was the month of birthdays, and we celebrated his with a South Side bar crawl that never crawled anywhere. TJ, a friend of his from out of town, and I met up with Swag and his party posse at Rumshakers around 7 pm, and none of us left there before 12:30 am. Resigned to being a drunken mess that night, he refused to hold his tongue. Handing a female friend a fine cigar he’d been given that day, he told her, “Put it where you want me to goo later.” Smiling, she deftly slid it into her cleavage. And at various other times throughout the night, we would cast a glance in his direction and catch sight of him standing behind the very same girl, mock-humping her like a terrier on a leg.
- My friends can drink. Not that I didn’t necessarily already know this; hell, I’ve made repeated boastings of it throughout the history of this page. But on a few occasions this summer, this point was convincingly reaffirmed for me. And not only my friends, but also their wives and husbands, in-laws, and assorted acquaintances. When we’re gathered in a crowd, it’s impressive to look around and realize that no one is slacking.
- Loving someone more than you love yourself is frightening. You feel at once invincible and precarious; standing high above the rest of the world, yet one slip and you’re going to crash back to earth.
- Life never stops; no matter what you may be going through, the world keeps spinning. In the past 4 days alone, both T.C. and Finn have become fathers. Finn and Genoa welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world on Monday evening, and just yesterday Mrs. T.C. gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Congratulations go out to all of them, and here’s to their new families enjoying long, prosperous lives. May there always be better days ahead. Cheers.