I signed up to host a HTTM Party in Philadelphia. This is going to be private style, but you can get your own party if you sign up (full disclosure mode, I get 10 free tickets).
Get your tickets:
Since I am turning 30, I figured I would take a look back at the last 30 years from my perspective.
[1979 – 1983]
The first four years of my life are a little hazy. My father’s family was my whole world – literally – they all lived across the street from us, so I was always with my Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins. I remember my Uncle Joe being a huge ball buster and always taking my legos, my sister attempting to kill me a few times, my Grandmother buying me vanilla ice cream cones with rainbow sprinkles from Mr. Softy, “Painting” my Grandfather’s shed (using water) with my cousin Laurie, chasing my Grandparent’s dog Pebbles under their couch (that was the dog’s name right?), my cousin Clara (aka Fonzie) putting Combos in my cheese sandwich starting a life long love affair with that particular snack, Clara creating plastic with an easy bake oven and it promptly being taken away from us, my Godfather shoving squid between my teeth (because I wouldn’t eat it) knocking out a tooth, my Grandmother (Mom’s side) buying me an organ, eating freshly grown grapes from everyone’s back yards, watching Thriller and “Faces of Death” with my cousins, My mom buying us 45s of “Born in the USA” and “Thriller” (and playing them non-stop), Ida’s Ice Cream shop, Eating Fruity Pebbles at Jackie & Paulette’s house, walking around with Ernie, the Lebanese Festivals where I went on my first rides and making friends with the Vietnamese family next door – they had a son my age that they called “Chewy”.
I also remember a show called “Automan” being my absolute favorite because the dude could make anything with a “computer buddy”.
Does anybody else remember this show?
[1984 – 1994]
We moved into a bigger house in 1984 near the Philadelphia football and baseball stadiums. I remember my mother and grandmother going to the house cleaning it and getting ready to move in. I don’t remember much about my pre-school days, but it is where I inevitably met my childhood friends because the school nor the classroom changed much over the next 9 years. I remember my mother’s father passing away and my father’s mother following soon after while I was in Kindergarten.
There were plenty of kids in the neighborhood and typical of children, sometimes we got along, and sometimes we didn’t. One thing that was clear from the beginning was were were all very competitive with each other in the grades department I never really shook of the fear of getting anything “less than an A because I will look dumb”. Going to a Catholic grade school certainly had pros and cons: The nuns were excellent teachers who had complete control of the class (they didn’t beat us with rulers btw), but you had to deal with the whole religious aspect of a Catholic education, but I didn’t know what the hell was going on back then. I have a strong affection for nuns even though I loathe the church – they were good ladies.
First Holy Communions shifted into Confirmations and by that time we weren’t all sugar and sweetness. The desire to be “cool” started to manifest itself – it might have started with haircuts and clothes (fucking Air Jordans, Z-Cavariccis, and “spike” haircuts), then it was minor acts of vandalism, and then it was going out and wanting to fight the kids who lived on 13th street “by the tunnel”. My first window to the world outside of South Philadelphia came from my growing annoyance at my peer’s taste in rap music. Kriss Kross did not make me want to “Jump Jump” and I wasn’t into wearing my clothes backwards. I was sort of shocked how quickly Kriss Kross morphed into 2-Live Crew, Black Sheep, and NWA. This may have been historical music for a lot of reasons, but my 12 year old ears heard a lot of angry shit that I could not relate to. I ended up befriending an older guy named Mark who lived across the street that was in a bar band who taught me about Led Zeppelin, the Stones, the Beatles and that led me into the grunge age (I always liked Pearl Jam more than Nirvana in case you were wondering, but as an adult, I think the Pixies were the best of the genre).
My last years of grade school saw the Soviet Union collapse, ending the cold war and Bill Clinton take office (with a nice box of cigars in his desk drawer). Music was an entry drug to books, which then got me interested in history, which then got me interested in how fucked up the Catholic church was (this was heavy shit for a 12-13 year old going to Catholic school). By the time I entered my first year at St. John Neumann High School (SJNHS) I was done with the church but knew enough to keep that to myself. The school employed blatantly homosexual priests… okay I have to side track here for a moment because I will never have another reason to write about this:
At St. John Neumann High School, we were required to (of course) take a religion class. The messed up thing about this class was after a few weeks of teaching the new testament, the priest blows off the curriculum and starts teaching basic health, spending a considerable amount of time on “wet dreams”. I know what you are thinking because I was thinking it too while I was trapped in the classroom with this lunatic who threatened to spank us if we were getting out of line.
I didn’t have an issue with the priest’s preferences (whatever my understanding of the lifestyle was at the time) but I knew enough to determine that he had serious internal conflict between his orientation and his “employers” (thinking about it makes me very sad for this guy because I don’t imagine his life was easy).
Back to my time at SJNHS – it was terrible. It sucked at the time and looking back, it really sucked. That school was a dark and miserable place. The Catholic high schools in Philadelphia had track systems based on your ability. Honors Track and Track 1 were the best, Track 2 was average, Track 3 not so good, Track 4 – well – you didn’t see many track 4 kids leave the basement. I was placed in all Track 1 and honors classes, but it was clear to me that many parents got their kids into these classes who didn’t belong – there was a dude who used to sit behind me that I don’t think could read – he used to try to cheat off of me, which I would have been cool with had he not been so open about it. I used to get into fights with this dude and his cronies all the time. It was a joy to be educated in such an institution.
By the end of that school year my old man informed us we were packing up and moving to South Jersey. My sister and I were appropriately horrified at the time and after a few visitations to my new high school, my opinion did not change (the school smelled like cow shit and all the kids looked like they just got done surfing). Leaving the world of South Philadelphia was hard at the time, I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I liked the freedoms it afforded me (an ever increasing mobility thanks to public transportation). I knew Jersey would make me very dependent on my parents for transport and that was not appealing – but in the end it was one of the best decisions my father ever made.
[1994 – 1997]
By the time we moved, I don’t think I was talking to any of my childhood friends; most of it was due to the typical high school split – we just didn’t see each other and we moved in different circles, so it made cutting ties to the old neighborhood easier than I thought. The hardest part was not having the access to my family that I used to have, but weekly music lessons in the city kept up visitation for a few more years until I was independently mobile (but I am getting ahead of myself).
Moving to New Jersey was an adjustment; at first I thought the kids at my new high school were “simple”. That was a costly error in judgment. Having just gotten out of an all boys Catholic high school, co-ed public school offered unique freedoms regarding dress code and the opposite sex. I became friends with Rob Austin on my first day of classes and he still is one of my best friends and actually the only person I still talk to from High School. Rob was friendly with a group of girls that I had assumed would be friendly to a new person. They weren’t. That created an interesting dynamic and earned me a reputation with Rob’s merry little group of band-chicks (I wasn’t taking their shit lying down, hence the reputation).
I had a small window of opportunity to get in with the cool kids the first 2 weeks of class and I had no clue that there was a window, thus resigning myself to an odd form of anonymity. Most of these kids knew each other for years (all 264), so even though nobody gave a shit about me, they all knew me because I was a new face. A new school gave me a chance to reinvent myself a bit, but I didn’t really know who the hell I was, so I went through the motions, but overall I was relatively content in my new surroundings.
In the summer of 1995, my Uncle Joe agreed to take me to Italy for a few weeks (the same Uncle Joe that took my legos from me as an infant) – this was a game changer: 3 weeks left to my own devices with distant relatives who were awesome people. I immediately struck up a friendship with my cousin Luca and we spent the next few weeks playing music and running around my family’s ancestral home. I came back a changed man (internally).
The remainder of my high school years were blissfully uneventful. I joined a little rock and roll band and indulged some rock star fantasies for half a second (covering Oasis and Beatles tunes – which thanks to hours of practicing, I can’t listen to anymore), I remember watching the OJ trial in my English class and thinking justice does have a price, Smashing Pumpkins were the all the rage (“Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage” – I fucking hated that song and the douche-bags that wore the zero t-shirts). I worked at a woman’s shoe store in the mall and made friends with a lot of strippers. I had a few great mentorsteachers that steered me in the right direction career wise (Thanks Mr. Cromer) and then I went to college.
[1997 – 2002]
The guy I was in Italy made a strong comeback when college hit – I wasn’t afraid of offending people’s delicate sensibilities or worried about “what my mother might think”. I immediately made a new friend a few minutes on campus and we have been thick as thieves ever since. Sean and I quickly assembled a posse in college – we were all good kids that wanted to do well, some of them had their issues which led to some philosophical disagreements, but I didn’t really meet any bad people at Drexel.
Freshmen year was a haze of unrestricted freedom, building friendships, bi-sexual girls, and the end of any remaining threads of childhood. My grandfather (dad’s side) passed away in November of 1997 and effectively marked the end of childhood. School was turning into “punish the bad professors” with some professors supporting my verbal terrorism on the lazy professors. A funny side note – I had won a GPA based award in the spring of 1998 and they had a little dog and pony show for the parents; one of my favorite professors, John Hall, was there to give the awards. During dessert, I introduce him to my mother and he says to her “you look too nice to be his Mom!” I think my Mom started to actually believe the stories my friends were telling.
Sophomore year brought steady employment (with it some excellent friends – Jack and The Good Looks Crew) and steady romance which brought upon forced maturity; looking back I wished I had another year of not being too responsible, but responsibility suits me. During the next few years my cousin Anthony introduced nature into my social scene organizing camping and rafting trips which have become a staple for years to come (Nate in particular enjoyed these outings and has bonded with Anthony). Somewhere in the middle of this bliss George W. Bush managed to become president of the United States. Like an asshole I didn’t vote (but Gore carried in my town anyway) but I have never skipped an election since (and never viewed Florida the same way).
Some time in 2001 I went to see Glenn Philips (lead singer of Toad the Wet Sprocket) playing at the Northstar bar in Philadelphia. The guy opening for him was late and my friends were at the bar wondering what the hell was going on. This tall kid was drinking a beer next to us (overhearing us complain about the delay) says: “I hear the guy opening is pretty good”. We were all glad to hear that, so this dude puts his beer down, walks up to the stage, picks up the guitar and starts singing this song:
Remember, this is before John Mayer became any form of famous, and a douchy celebrity dater. I maintain that Mayer is one of the best guitar players of my generation and he blew our minds. Excellent performance. He was very nice after the show, selling his self-made EPs of what became “Inside Wants Out”. That fucking CD was the soundtrack of my college years.
I worked hard in college and graduated a term early, allowing me to start working early and earn some money, I shifted easily from full time student to full time worker.
In mid-2003 I broke up with a long time girlfriend and made some major life changes. I fully embraced the out with the old mentality: I rid myself of troublesome acquaintances, about 140 lbs of excess weight, started focusing on my corporate career, and opened a computer repair shop.
During this time I went on a ridiculous amount of dates. I tried all methods: bars, dating sites, blind dates – anything I could think of or suggested to me – why? – because why not? I met alot of nice girls and always tried to do the right thing. The added bonus about going out on all of those dates was it made me much better at job interviews. I had some opportunities inside and outside of my company (I kept my corporate job in addition to running my business for those not in the know) that I attribute to the girls I spent time with during those years. In the middle of this storm, I started my first blog – “Traffic in the Skyline” (I don’t mess with it anymore, but it’s still out there).
As Mayer got more famous and became more interested in being a celebrity, my musical mascot became and continues to be Ryan Adams. This song is a personal favorite:
Eventually I met my wife and those single days were all over.
[2006 – Present]
With my future wife in the picture, my life started calming down quite a bit (sometimes naturally, sometimes I forced it). We closed the computer shop down to everyone’s relief (eventually) and I started spending my free time looking at houses. Since the housing market was in such an unsteady state, it took us two years to find a place we felt wasn’t going to lose value. We moved in December 23rd 2007 – it was a pretty good Christmas that year. In October of 2008, I made an honest woman out of Allison and we got married…
With thirty years behind me, I am looking ahead to a future that is isn’t assuring: that pot belly has come back, the economy is still depressed, oil supplies will continue to drop as energy concerns rise, fresh water has the potential to be in short supply in thirty years as we continue to pollute the oceans (making it less beneficial to develop desalinization technology), but I maintain hope that everybody can get their shit together and I can bring a child into the world that still has potential to do amazing things. Responsibility: You can hide from it – but it will always find you, so you might as well embrace it.
Sure some other stuff has happened along the way – promotions, fights, reconciliations, new family members, a new president, – and I am sure all of those stories will be told in some way, by me or someone else, but this is good for now.
I will end this article and this period of my life with a few pearls of wisdom:
1. Be brutally honest with your family, it is better to have it all out in the open than to try to spare someone’s feelings or your concept of your own self-respect.
2. Good friends are truly a rare gift; bad friends are a dime a dozen (I like to throw my dimes at cars that cut me off).
3. If you can, make friends with people who are of different backgrounds and ages than you, it helps you get different perspectives of life and you borrow some of their hard earned wisdom.
4. Accept that you, like most people (myself absolutely included), are probably a total asshole. Once you accept that you can move past it and attempt to live a decent life.
5. Sitting on the couch will get you nothing but a fat ass.
That just about sums up 30 years, thanks for taking the ride with me. I am looking forward to the next trip.
Take it away Bruce…
NOTE: The names, dates, and places have all been changed to protect the parties involved.
Weddings are supposed to be days of happiness and unity, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. A few years ago my buddy “Clowncar” took the plunge and exchanged vows. The ceremony and reception were great. Clowncar invited our group to attend (sans my future wife as we had only been dating a few months, so invitations and seating were already locked – this is an important because…). Since I was going stag and three of the other guys were single at the time, we agreed to go together. Let’s call the three guys Grapeape, Shame, and Shirts. Like any wedding with an open bar, we got drunk. Then we went to a bar at the hotel and drank some more. During the wedding, Shame was on the prowl looking for some wedding sex which he achieved in a classic story that is not mine to tell publicly. I will share my friend’s wife kept saying “he’s not going to have sex with that girl is he? She’s so nasty!” My reply was “what do you think her family is saying about him.” Because of that sexual conquest, Shame recommended we leave so he could avoid awkward cuddling or conversation post coitus. Off we went. I should note that I had stopped drinking during the wedding because I had to drive.
We ended up going to a semi-popular bar/restaurant in South Jersey that happened to be open late for some god awful reason. This is one of those places that is really a restaurant but decides to call itself into a club after 11:00 PM for the asshole patrons that think they are doing something with their night. We walk in as a fight is being broken up. Bad Omen. Shame’s intent was to get laid again and was in full capture mode. When Shame reaches such levels of self-interest I tend to take a few paces back, way too much for me to handle drunk let alone sober. As I watched my friends get progressively drunker another fight is broken up and the participants are ejected from the building… that makes two. I strike up a conversation with the bouncers, and say something to the effect of “for such a tame bar, there seems to be a lot of fights tonight.” The bouncer agrees saying he doesn’t know what is going on. Unfortunately, it would soon be our turn.
What happens next will first be told from my perspective sitting on the bench in front of the bar next to the bouncer and then I will tell the story from other accounts of what happened:
From my view:
I noticed Shame, Grapeape, and Shirts at the main bar talking to two girls, one attractive and one that wasn’t (of course she was throwing herself at Shame – like a lamb to the slaughter). I continue my conversation with the bouncer when I hear “Fuck you ” I look up and notice Shirts start to get up and look very angry. Shirts is of a non-Caucasian ethnicity (I won’t say what) and this was a very inappropriate thing to say (it was not the N-word). Shirts goes off on this guy, telling him he is going to do terrible things…bla bla bla. The bouncers rush over and the guy and Shirts are getting tossed out. I grab Shirts and try to calm things down, he agrees to go outside to cool off. Grapeape and Shame stay in the bar with the girls.
Second Hand Account:
Shame, Grapeape, and Shirts were talking to the two girls (Shame was trying to lock down both) when a few guys came over and tried to talk to the girls. Shame immediately got pissed at this act and told the two guys to fuck off. Things escalated from there until they called Shirts the racial slur. I should have guessed Shame was at the center of it…
Once I got outside, Shirts was calming down when we noticed several guys were coming to my car from other parts of the parking lot. I quickly (and correctly) guessed that all of fights were connected and all of these assholes were together. There were initially ten guys trying to start something with Shirts outside. You know that part in Thriller when MJ and the girl are surrounded by the zombies and the camera goes around in the circle, and then comes back on MJ and he is a zombie? That’s what happened to us except Shirts didn’t turn into a zombie (or in this case a greasy European looking guy) and nobody was breaking out into spontaneous street dancing. Being the only sober one in the general area, I start talking common sense: everybody is drunk, it’s not going to end well, their group is going to get into way more trouble since we were basically being jumped; they started to back off. Then Grapeape comes out.
He burst out of the bar doors like Hulk Hogan and in my retro-memory he is waving his finger and “Hulking Up”. He immediately gets in this giant greasy kid’s face as more of their friends follow out of the bar. There is now close to twenty guys surrounding the three of us. Angry words are being exchanged and I look over at the bar for the bouncers and I see Shame talking with them. Shame comes over. One of the smaller guys manages to dart behind Grapeape and the big greasy kid pushed him down. The thugs swarms around Grapeape. He never even had a chance. It seems to me that Shame was their original target and he was quickly taken down once Grapeape was neutralized. Shame’s survival instinct is strong as he rolled into a ball and protected his pretty face. Eventually they grew tired of him and moved to join the gangbang on Grapeape.
(Example of what the offenders looked like)
Shirts and I were still on our feet. There were three guys on Shirts and he somehow made them move away from Grapeape and Shame and took them on himself in another portion of the parking lot. There was one guy left and he was gunning for me. I am completely sober and have the benefit of adrenaline clarity. This guy is staggering before he even throws one punch. I keep telling him he doesn’t want to throw that punch but I am thinking I don’t want to throw a punch. Being sober in a fight as one huge disadvantage: logic. I am thinking if I hit this guy and he gets hurt, am I going to get sued? Jail? As I am deep in thought, he punches me. This kid has no heat and his fist literally bounces off my head. I say fuck it, self-defense time. One open palm to the face and he is down and bleeding. I look back at Grapeape and the swarm around him is huge and kicking. I scream at the bouncers to call the cops and probably an ambulance. I then jump on Grapeape and try to absorb some of the kicks to his head. I noticed Shame pretending to be passed out by a car.
The cops arrived quickly leading me to believe someone else called earlier. The twenty assholes actually ran away. RAN AWAY. The cops quickly caught up with them. As the ambulance arrived, their attention was first focused on Shame. Shame was fine and kept asking/proclaiming that “It’s got to be illegal to punch someone in the face, it has to be illegal.” The EMT kept telling him he was right, it was assault, but Shame kept saying it until the EMT told Shame to shut the fuck up. Eventually they focused on Grapeape – he was in bad shape. They cleaned him up, patched up the cuts, and made sure he didn’t have a concussion. As they checked my friend, I looked at the other part of the parking lot where the cops managed to wrangle up most of the thugs. They were allowed to leave on their own accord.
They left. The ambulance left. The cops left. We left.
I dropped off Shirts and Shame. Then I went to Grapeape’s place. I stayed with him to make sure he wasn’t exhibiting any signs of a concussion – he wasn’t. He kept telling me to leave and after an hour or so, I agreed to go (which I regretted then and to this day). I found out he went to the hospital the next day to get stitches and to be treated for a minor concussion – something good came out of that trip, but that’s not my business to say, but I think it worked out for him.
Shame and I went to the police station the following week as Shame was exploring any and all options to capitalize on his beating. Nothing came of it. No surprise.
I wish I could come up with some profound way to end this story. To my knowledge, none of us have been involved in a fight since. Grapeape deplores going out and being around people and likes to stay home with his girl, Shirts and I are married and living our lives, and Shame is… still Shame.
In an effort to break out of the “Sunday Leftovers” style of writing that has been featured on the blog lately, I have decided to recount (and offer commentary to) a series of recent conversations with a friend. This is one of those “this is how my mind works” sort of things and I am most definitely making fun of myself and the friend I am telling the story about. I know he is going to read this and I hope he finds it amusing.
A few weeks ago one of my good friends called me and told me he had a surprise for me and was going to stay over a weekend in July. I enjoy this friend’s visits and always try to make sure he has a good time (sometimes I do well and sometimes I feel like he wasted his time; so I feel a little pressure to deliver when he comes over). I checked my calendar for the weekend he mentioned and I noticed it was another friend’s birthday – this friend sometimes wants to celebrate and sometimes does not, but I always keep the weekend opened. So I go back to my visiting friend and ask him if his plans are flexible, he said that he didn’t have a specific agenda for when he was coming. For the moment I think “this is good”: it means we could potentially go to my other friend’s birthday celebration should there be one and if not, we would do something else. Then I started to think “this is bad; if he doesn’t have plans, what the hell could the surprise be?”
My friend has baseball season tickets and he often goes to Sunday games. He usually times his visits with those Sunday games because he lives a few hours away from the baseball stadium and my house. It is a good setup: Less driving for him, and we get to hang out the night before the game. I started to put the clues together. The surprise had to be either a person or a thing, and I know he isn’t much of an items person, so I focused my thoughts on people. I surmised that this person must be going to the baseball game. I narrowed my list down and came up with two candidates and I was leaning towards one heavily. I will digress for a moment and say that the reason I put so much thought into this is because I might be having another guest at the house that weekend, and I needed to know what the room situation will be and most importantly, if someone is going to stay over I like to be prepared (this is where my crazy lives).
Flash forward to last night; I am in Hartford, CT and my friend calls. I step outside of the restaurant to talk to him (I had been in an all day team meeting and it would be good to hear some irreverent filthiness coming out of his mouth) and he tells me he is all pumped out for the surprise weekend. I hadn’t thought about it for a few weeks, so this was a good opportunity to pump him for information. I mentioned my other friend’s birthday again and he assured me it wouldn’t be an issue, so I said his surprise has to be a thing or a person. He said he didn’t want to tell me anymore because I would guess. We did this dance for a few minutes, and then I said “I think you are bringing Bla Bla Bla (good Christian name isn’t it?) and then you will go to the game the next day”, he kinda gets quiet and says “that’s your guess eh?” A few minutes later he is calling me an asshole because I had guessed correctly. As he is confirming the additional guest I am thinking “okay I am going to need more beer, what else does this guy drink, I should probably buy two boxes of microwavable white castle because I am not cooking when we get drunk, oh shit where is he going to sleep if Allison’s friend is staying over…” and then my mind starts to shift into “well this is one hell of a surprise, now I got to make sure two people don’t have a sucky weekend, thanks alot buddy!”.
I tend to think about the way I think about things (Stop. Re-read that. Get it? Good.) So during the 4-hour drive home from Hartford I thought about my initial mental reaction to hearing that this other guest, a friend I haven’t seen since my wedding, would be visiting. The reaction wasn’t happy or sad (or any of the other dwarfs) it was “Oh shit, I need to prepare”. I don’t think this is good or bad, I just think this is me. But I also thought about the nature of surprises; was this really a surprise? Should it even be a surprise? If I was bringing someone over to someone else’s house I would let them know, but I am also the same person who wrote 850 words and counting about such a situation. So what do you think blogger-verse? Am I too uptight? Should a guest inform a host of another potential guest even if it is under the guise of a surprise? Does that even count as a surprise? Get back to me here, I need to be validated or shut down.
You can reach me via facebook comments (if you are reading this post there) or via email: blog at joeylombardi.com (screw you spammers!). I will post the replies for amusement’s sake.
PS: I’d like to thank my friend for giving me an additional 1000 words to write about this week (Well 985 to be exact).