Date Archives May 2017

Apparently I Wrote a Book

I woke up this morning and saw a headline titled “50 Challenges You Can Start Today.”

I wonder what sort of person reads that and goes “HELL YES, MOTHERFUCKER! Bring it ON!” I know those people exist. I am not one of them. The fact that I have to work today AND pick up kids from school AND go to CVS AND cook dinner so people can leave early for evening activities AND go get some straggling crap out of my old house is plenty for me, thanks.

Last night I dreamed that a horse fell on me. It was a massive horse, big as an elephant. As the animal was falling and I was watching its rounded center come down on me, I thought “This could kill me. Can anyone lift a horse this big? I don’t think so. This could kill me. But no. I decide that it’s not going to. I’m getting out of this.”

The hippie dippy part of me decided this was a symbol for overwhelm. The last few weeks have been nonstop, and I got some news yesterday that mean the next few weeks are likely to get even crazier. And yesterday, it’s true, I did make the decision that these next few weeks would not kill me. I would rise above. So maybe my subconscious was assuring me.

Or maybe I’ve been thinking about the circus a lot over the last few days (see previous post) and that means horses and elephants and maybe I also read a news article the other day about a trophy hunter in Africa who was killed when an elephant fell on him. His buddy shot the elephant to stop it from attacking. Boom, over it went. Right onto the hunter. Talk about karma.

And also, maybe I took Somnis last night because I wanted to have deep and wonderful sleep and Somnis tends to give me intense dreams.

Or maybe it means all of those things. Because, as I recently read, the only meaning that life has is the meaning we give it.

Deep, huh? Me likey.

About that book I mentioned …

Not to bury the bury the lede here, but I wrote a book. It’s called You’re Only Getting Older and Uglier — Start Online Dating NOW: The single mom’s guide to getting back out there.

How’s that for a title stuffed fulla keywords? I figure there’s probably a lot of people searching for how to be older and uglier.

I released it on Amazon last week, one week after I moved, surrounded by boxes in a weird, old house and work, work, work and a bunch of other stuff going on. It wasn’t my plan to release it then, but sometimes life tells you when it’s time.

Or does it? Because remember, life only has the meaning that we give it. I choose to believe that life was like, “Hey … didn’t you finish that book months ago? I think you did. Time to get it out there, babe. NOW.”

So here it is, the link to my little passion project. It’s not my life’s work. It’s not a big, serious deal. (In fact, it’s hardly serious at all, except when it is.) It’s just something I feel strongly about and wanted to share. I would be ever-so-humbled if you gave it a look. And if you do, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. Reviews help little books like mine get found. (AND THANKS!)

Farewell, fair circus

The circus is closing. THE circus. The big one. The biggest one there ever was.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

 

For a brief period in my 20s — about a year and a half — I was a promoter for Feld Entertainment, the company that owns Ringling, Disney on Ice, and several other entertainment properties. Me and my fellow promoters were the people responsible for making sure you knew the show was coming to town and that your life would be significantly less happy if you didn’t buy a ticket and go see it. We used to say that it was our job to put butts in the seats.

But that’s not all we did. When the shows came to our territories, we were holed up backstage with them, doing a very weird mix of things like monitoring the box office, making sure the all the fire permits were in place, making sure television crews showed up and knew where to go, and a hundred other weird, unexpected tasks that might arise when a traveling show decamps for several days.

I landed the best assignment a promoter could ever hope for. After two months of training at Feld’s corporate headquarters, I got sent to New York mother-effing City for a six-month apprenticeship. In typical Feld style, I had to figure a lot out on my own. I was told “Trish, you’re going to New York for six months. Find an apartment. You leave in two weeks.”

I called the one person I knew in the city and she somehow magically knew someone who needed a roommate. I ended moving into  a loft apartment in the East Village with three strangers. For the first few months, my “room” in that open loft was a futon mattress on the floor in the corner across from kitchen. Every morning I’d crawl off my mattress, put on my lady business suit, and go off to tackle whatever was on that day’s agenda for someone learning how to be a badass promoter.

Two days after I arrived, I was flashing my staff pass to go in the backstage entrance of Madison Square Garden to work on the Disney on Ice Hercules show. It was hard not to feel giddy about that.

Then, the next few months fell into a rhythm of working in the Feld mid-town office for a few weeks and then camping out in whatever NYC-area the various ice shows were in. It was as fun as it sounds.

But I hadn’t seen anything yet. Because I had yet to work the circus.

Spring is circus season in New York. The show comes to the greater New York Area and it stays for many, many weeks. First the Meadowlands arena in northern Jersey, then Nassua Coliseum (where the last show ever will take place today), and then the Big Momma: weeks in residence at Madison Square Garden.

Back in 1998, I, along with the rest of the New York office, was basically absorbed into the Blue Unit of the circus for nearly two months. We had offices backstage wherever they were. We shuttled performers all over the city for press events. We handled celebrities who showed up to see the show. (My fave: Bruce Springsteen slipping out the backstage door after the show carrying BOTH of his sleeping children, who were both definitely out of the toddler years. What a guy.)

Walking past a herd of 13 elephants to get to my office became, oddly, normal. I got to feed a tiger, which was easily the most terrifying experience of my life. I got to stay overnight in the circus train. I once had to take a clown, who was in full makeup, to the hospital after a gag went wrong and he got hit in the head with a board. I still giggle thinking about this clown sitting across from the triage nurse during the hospital intake. The nurse asked all the regular questions. Then she asked “occupation?” This guy, whose whole schtick was his deadpan delivery, looked her in the eye quizzically and waited a beat before replying “uhhh, clown?”

I’ve tried to write about the circus so many times, but I often end up getting bowled over by a visceral speedball of memories. It was a fully sensory experience. The sights, the sounds, the smells.

Later today, I’m going to see the last show ever. The sights and sounds will be familiar, but it won’t smell like the circus. The elephants were retired last year.

I’m weirdly emotional about the show ending. It feels like going to the funeral of an old friend. While my time with the show wasn’t incredibly long, it was incredibly intense. It was formative. It changed me. It changes everyone who spends any time around it.

I drank the circus in like it was a magic potion. I loved talking to people backstage. I loved collecting their stories.

The circus was billed as family entertainment, and it certainly was. But the dramas and the seediness that go along with circus life were there, even though Ringling’s image had been scrubbed squeaky clean. Backstage, there was always more going on than there was in the three rings. Romances, dramas, scores to settle, injuries … and gossip about all of it. “All this American food is making the Bulgarian girls fat … and whose job is it to get them on some birth control?”

By the time the show hit Manhattan, it felt like Ringling ruled New York. Everyone opened their doors to us. Every night after the show, we’d start with drinks at the bar across the street from the Garden and then end up who knows where. During that time, I was waking up to the sun pouring into my room (we built walls!), thinking “I cannot believe this is my life.”

After my time in New York, I caught up with both units of the show in various cities around the country. No matter where we were, it was clear that Ringling was baked into Americana. Gawd, that sounds cheesy. But it’s also true.

I have so many random memories. Mark Oliver Gebel lovingly hosing down the big cats outside the arena in Little Rock. His father, the (now departed) legendary animal trainer Gunther Gebel Williams, standing just outside the spotlight while his son did his act. During the performance, Gunther would reach in to pet the tiger nearest him, and the cat would lean into his touch with obvious affection. The audience had no idea they were watching two legends at the same time.

I nearly got run over by a hippo in Shreveport. Zusha was on her way out to the floor to do her act, I was walking backstage, and she nearly took me out — because there was no way she was going to divert her course for anyone.

At that same engagement, the a/c went out in the arena. It was July. The trapeze act was dismal because everyone’s hands were so sweaty they couldn’t make a catch.

I could go on and on and on. And so could anyone who has spent any time around the show. Later today, I’ll sit in the audience as the last show plays out.

What happens after that? A lot former and current employees will probably converge to drink many drinks and tell tall tales. I keep wondering what will happen to the performers, the crew, the road staff who have been with the show forever … how will it be to board the train for the last time? And what will happen to the mile-long train? And how will the people who have been LIVING this for decades reform their lives? It’s staggering.

People in the circus never say goodbye. They see “See ya down the road.” I always loved that. It takes the sting out of saying farewell when you have to move on. But there will always be another show. Another city. You’ll meet again down the road.

But now the road has come to an end. Is it really time to say goodbye? It seems so wrong.

Farewell, my beloved circus. I am privileged to have known you.

Movin’ Out

After a long silence, I’ve barfed up a long blog post for you. There are two sections to this one. I’m telling you this now so you can maximize your reading pleasure by only reading those sections that you feel like reading. I’m nice like that.

Here’s what I’ll cover in each section:

  1. HolymotherofGod, we’re moving again
  2. We are moving to a dump

Section 1: So long, lovely house

We’re moving.

Not because we want to, but because have to. People who love us say things like “Are you excited about the big move? Is your new house nice?”

The answers to those questions would be no and no.

But life, for some reason, has been pushing us in some very specific directions the past few years. I sort of feel like a little toy boat that has no choice but to go with the currents and see where we end up …

Is it possible to give a fast back story on this? There are so many variables, but I’ll try.

When Joe and I got engaged, it made sense for me to move out where he was. We had been living an hour apart, and I worked from home, so I was the portable one. Also, my family lived right down the road from him, and I hadn’t lived near them since I was 26.

The problem was schools. This massive school district Joe lived in has some very weird dividing lines between its many, many elementary schools. We were trying to get my kids into the same school where Joe’s kids were already going, but it was impossible.

When I say impossible, I’m not saying there wasn’t a good inventory of houses or that we couldn’t find a house that we liked. There were literally zero houses for rent that would’ve fit all six of us. I’m talkin’, there wasn’t even a tiny house or an ugly house. There were NONE.

The other problem, which is crucial to story, is that we were not in a position to buy a house at the time. We’d both lost a boatload of money in our divorces, and mine in particular was a divorce of the TFD variety (that’s “Totally Financially Devastating.”) It takes a little time to recover after something like that.

So we had to try to find something to rent, in an area that is generally not a rental market. I’ll skim over the weeks of extreme stress and not sleeping and deadlines to vacate our various properties and just get to the part where this lovely home that I’m sitting in right now landed in our laps.

For you new-agey types, get a load of this: if manifesting really works, I pulled this house right out of the ether. The more stressed we got, the worse the house options seemed to get. Finally, I put the brakes on all of it. I told Joe he was not allowed to think about it at all anymore, that I was going to fix it. So I started a mantra. “A house we love, in a location we love, at a price we love.” Every time I felt the slightest worry, I’d say that. Days later, BOOM.

When I spoke to the homeowner, the planets all sort of aligned. She had also been a single mom for many years. She had just remarried. She was going to live with her new husband until his kids graduated high school, and then they weren’t sure what they were going to do. They might move back here, but they also might pick up and move to Florida.

She told me about the house. It had a creek in the front yard. It had one really large bedroom upstairs that was not the master, and yes, it would probably fit all three of the girls (who actually WANTED to share a room, believe it or not). There were three fireplaces. (Dudes. Three fireplaces. And they are so delightful because they exist here not in an obnoxious, show-offy way, but rather,in an understated, cozy way … you’re just walking through the place and it’s like “Oh! There’s another one? And another? How many are there?”) And oh yeah, she was interior designer.

The only bummer was that the kids wouldn’t be in the same schools. If we stayed in the house, all the kids would eventually wind up in the same high school in a few years. But since this house was literally the only option we had, we decided we’d just have to deal with that. (So that means this year we have four kids in four different schools. It is, thankfully, not as bad as it sounds.)

The homeowner agreed to a two-year lease and said we could talk after that.

Since this house had just sort of fallen out of the sky for us, I pretty much decided that we were destined to be together. I think we all did. Joe and I took it for granted that we’d be buying this place.

But nope.

The homeowner wants to move back in. The nerve!

I kid. It’s her house. She can do whatever she wants with it, including, you know, live in it. But it felt like a devastating blow. We felt like we being evicted. We were terrified to tell the kids who liked to ask questions like “If we buy this place, would we turn the screened-in porch into a real room?”

 

Section 2: Shabby chic or dumpy chic?

 

So not only did we have to move again, we had to move in THIS TOWN. Real estate in this town is hard. It’s an awesome place to live and because of that, home prices are off the chain. For example, we looked at a total dump that smelled like cat pee that was selling for the same amount that Joe’s old house, which was beautiful and totally finished, sold for. If you go out of town 10 minutes in any direction, houses become magically more reasonable.

And because fate dumped us into this particular neighborhood, my kids ended up going to the smallest elementary school in the district. It’s the smallest, because it pulls from about four neighborhoods. So if we wanted to avoid moving schools AGAIN, we had to find something within a really, really tight area.

The whole thing made me want to vomit.

After another few weeks of looking, another house fell out of the sky. I was on Zillow about every 10 minutes so I saw the listing right away. The address, one I recognized because I walk past it all the time, stopped me in my tracks.

It was a rental, but a big rental in what might be one of the best neighborhoods in the entire town. Gears began turning. What if we rented it for a year and then tried again next year … or what if we rented it for a couple of years and then just tried again after Benjamin was out of elementary school? Or, what if we just waited until the two oldest are off to college in a few years? Buying a house for six people vs. buying a house for four people and two college kids looks very different.

We decided to take it.

Did I mention it’s in a great neighborhood? When I tell people in town where we’re moving, their eyes get big. They say stuff like “Really? Wow. You’re so lucky.” Plus, the place is owned by one of the big-deal cultural institutions in the area. When people find out who owns it, they get all impressed because certainly a home owned by that institution is bound to be fucking cool.

And then I want to cry. Because, as The Dude would say, “New information has come to light, man.”

Guys, the place is a dump.

We knew that it was outdated. We knew that FOUR of the many rooms, including the kitchen, were painted pink or purple. We knew that one number was missing off the address plate but we were pretty sure they were going to fix that before we moved in.

I was ready to employ all kinds of DIY decorating to distract from the crappy elements and play up the charming elements. I was actually looking forward to the challenge. Besides, I love, love, love old quirky houses.

We had an overlap between when we got the keys there and when we had to be out of here. We figured we’d take those few weeks and paint and get the place nice and cozy for when we actually moved in.

The day after we got the keys, Joe and I loaded up the car to drop some things off at the house. We dropped our boxes in the big, empty space and then we started looking around.

Once we got under the hood of the joint, we were pretty horrified. Only about 1/3 of the many, many windows actually had a full set of screens and storm windows. Several of them, in place of storm windows, had plexiglass taped into the window frames. The window locks didn’t work on a bunch of windows. That is, they were there, but the screws that held them in no longer grabbed the wood. There were some pretty big holes in the wood flooring in the room that we were going to put Benjamin in.

And then, the kicker: no heat and hot water.

Joe and I declared a giant “FUUUUUUUUUUUCK THIS SHIT,” put our stuff back in the car, and got the hell outta there.

We went home and started looking for other housing options. When we cooled down a bit I wrote a giant email listing all the problems with the place. We realized that getting out the lease was probably going to be complicated and that we probably couldn’t legally get out of it without giving them an opportunity to fix some things.

That was about a month ago. The management company has fixed most of the things on our original list. But the problem is, every time we walked into the house for those first few weeks, we found more.

For example, one of the tiles on the kitchen floor was dented in. I wanted to pretend it was fine, because there were so many other repairs that we were asking about. But I couldn’t deny that right there the floor seemed … soft. Part of the corner of the tile was coming away from the floor so I lifted it up a bit and the wood under the tile looked like dried out mulch.

So now that’s on the list, too.

Finally, last week Joe and I both freaked the fuck out on the management company. We were like, “WHAT IS THE PLAN FOR THIS HOUSE? DO YOU INTEND TO JUST LET IT SIT HERE ON ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL STREETS IN TOWN AND LET IT DECOMPOSE? We’re paying a lot of money for this place. We know it’s old. We know it’s quirky and outdated, but we really expected that it would meet minimum requirements for livability. We’ve spent the last few weeks being home inspectors for this joint. Does no one care about this place?”

Did it help? I think, yes, to a certain extent. The address plate now includes all the numbers it’s supposed to. Some trash that was left in the yard (seriously) was taken out to the curb … although the trash in the basement remains. A bunch more things have gotten fixed.

I want to love this house. I also don’t want to move again in another year because moving sucks so bad. But I also don’t want to live in a dump.

What now? Today, we continue packing and painting. The movers come Thursday. After that, who knows …