April 19th, 2004.

From somewhere just North of the Pennsylvania line – I-70, listening to Ellis Paul: It’d be cool to be singer/songwriter owner/operators – musicians who also own a big 18-wheeler.

We’d pull our rig into the little coffeehouse, carefully parellel parking – and we’d HAVE to end the gig by 11 cause we’ve got a load of cheese that’d have to be in Kentucky by 7am.

Ah yes, the Life of a cheese wranglin rock god.

A couple of big windmill thingies for Justin. I'm not sure why, I think we were talking about them recently though... for some reason. But it's for Justin.
A couple of big windmill thingies for Justin. I’m not sure why, I think we were talking about them recently though… for some reason. But it’s for Justin.
And lawn gnomes for Shane. And deer. But mostly lawn gnomes.
And lawn gnomes for Shane. And deer. But mostly lawn gnomes.
Big sign. Wee. Or not, really.
Big sign. Wee. Or not, really.
Hot Metal Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA.
Hot Metal Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA.

Just got back to Sarah’s from Rex’s Theatre. We played like rock gods, which mostly just made us really really warm. The audience adored us, but they were also a bit weird. I Loved the host, Maude (of Louie and the Humans) – and the … NOT the bouncer… we’ll call him the Unbouncer, since he let us in but didn’t throw anyone out – and actually, I also really liked the owner. He exuded calm as HE asked US for our contact information. Score.


The next morning is beautiful and slow. The temperature is perfect, passing traffic is leisurely. At around 5 this morning, our car alarm went off, causing much stress and embarassment (for some reason it always goes off at Sarah’s house), and then the woodpecker started, and then the busses, and then the cat went insane…

The Rex Theatre - Pittsburgh, PA.
The Rex Theatre – Pittsburgh, PA.

but since THEN it’s been a perfect morning. Heather’s still lying in bed, trying to trap the cat.

Thoughts from the night –

“I have no time for little lives tonight.”

“I hear our car alarm in birdsong.”

April 20th, 2004.

Ah, the infamous 4.20. There’s a party here tonight that I’m eager to miss.

We went and wandered around South Side Pittsburgh, window shopping and snacking, grocery shopping and snacking, and venue shopping and sushi slurping. A good day in all – beautiful outside, and I really Love walking around this city. I Love the bizarre way it’s built.

Up.

Finally got a response from the Oberlin Revue – the Oberlin student newspaper… Saturday looks to be pretty exciting. I like when we get a schedule that states that “all performances involving fire will take place on the stone walk”. That’s just cool. I wish OUR performance involved fire.

Sigh.

While wandering around, a car back-fired twice, and though far louder than most guns, it startled the Hell out of me and made my shoulder-blades itch, reminding me high school.

Later, we found a shop that sold any number of random scents and soaps and incenses… and I turned out to be very, very allergic to it, despite the fact that the¬†smell was sooo similar to one of my favourite ex-girlfriends… it was this REALLY weird mix of sensations – something along the lines of “ooh!” (visually), then the scent kicked in and I got immediately REALLY horny, and then I sneezed. Sigh.

An unidentified creature. A beast. A weremole. Or perhaps a groundhog.
An unidentified creature. A beast. A weremole. Or perhaps a groundhog.

I don’t know what to think about 4.20. I’ve never been around people who smoke on April 20th before, and though I’ve always known about National Pot Day, or whatever else it may be called, I’ve never felt it’s presence quite this heavily before. It was odd wandering around Pittsburgh and realizing that people were running back and forth from place to place visiting friends and going on about their plans for the evening. What kind of pot, how it was going to be smoked, et cetera – and then watching guys talk about the clothes they bought. Metrosexual? Sort of…

Weird combination of stuff. So, Heather and I watch Will & Grace while everyone else is out on the porch celebrating 4.20. Heather seems to think I’m just naive.

A beaaayoootiful Diva chair.
A beaaayoootiful Diva chair.
Lillian, the cat, attacking my pants in an antique and stuff shop.
Lillian, the cat, attacking my pants in an antique and stuff shop.
Skitz, Sarah's cat. Too many damn cats. I wish I could blame this on Heather... but I keep...snapping... the pictures.
Skitz, Sarah’s cat. Too many damn cats. I wish I could blame this on Heather… but I keep…snapping… the pictures.
The Aspinwall Grille, in Aspinwall, Pennsylvania - Lives up to it's slogan.
The Aspinwall Grille, in Aspinwall, Pennsylvania – Lives up to it’s slogan.

My mom would’ve Loved the bar we played at last night. She would’ve Loved the house band. The Aspinwall Grille has something that should be hugely known – a dazzling group of musicians that come in and jam every Tuesday… a group that would leave the Blues Brothers breathless.

A huge variety of covers, and over the course of the night, three horn players eventually filter in, one by one. I Loved watching the sax player…. and then maybe an hour in another guy saunters in to much hail and greeting, and unpacks some unidentifiable horn, and then later still, another guy walks in and unpacks a big silver trumpet.

Three piece horn section. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that Live before, outside of high school jazz groups or ska bands.

It was… orgasmic.

The fact that they were blown away by US has NOTHING to do with the fact that we were blown away by THEM.

The Aspinwall horn section. I cropped the photo so you couldn't see the guy on the right giving the deadly "why the FUCK are you taking my picture" look. The guy in the middle is a fireman, and runs another open jam on Thursdays that we're going to go check out... er... on Thursday. I really can't even express what a good time we had. Really, why this place isn't packed every Tuesday is a mystery to me. I was pretty skeptical when the website advertised it as "the best-kept secret in Pittsburgh"... but I'm beginning to think it's true. Plus or minus the chupacabras in the sewers.
The Aspinwall horn section. I cropped the photo so you couldn’t see the guy on the right giving the deadly “why the FUCK are you taking my picture” look. The guy in the middle is a fireman, and runs another open jam on Thursdays that we’re going to go check out… er… on Thursday. I really can’t even express what a good time we had. Really, why this place isn’t packed every Tuesday is a mystery to me. I was pretty skeptical when the website advertised it as “the best-kept secret in Pittsburgh”… but I’m beginning to think it’s true. Plus or minus the chupacabras in the sewers.
Dave, who may or may not have been one of the owners of the Aspinwall Grille,is one of the hosts of their open stage, as well as an entertainment agent in the area AND a pretty good singer and excellent stage performer. Or at least a ham.
Dave, who may or may not have been one of the owners of the Aspinwall Grille,is one of the hosts of their open stage, as well as an entertainment agent in the area AND a pretty good singer and excellent stage performer. Or at least a ham.
The Aspinwall Grille is next door to the "Artsy-Tartsy Pastry and Art Gallery". Surely worth notice
The Aspinwall Grille is next door to the “Artsy-Tartsy Pastry and Art Gallery”. Surely worth notice.

HOLY SHIT!!!! Somewhere between Pittsburgh and California, we saw a WILD TURKEY!!!! I’ve never seen a turkey before. Damn big ass bird. When Heather started yelling “CREATURE!!! CREATURE!!!” I thought she was pointing out another were-mole. Wow, a wild turkey.


So, we’re coming back from one of our better nights ever. We’re actually worrying about running out of CDs. We sold a good number last night, and eleven tonight, and … well, I guess we’ve been under-estimating outselves or something. Anywho, looks like we’ll have to hope that Sharif can pick some up on the way to Ohio.

April 22nd, 2004

Oh, my God, the font is a different color [yeah, yeah, yeah, meaning NOWADAYS “the category is set to ‘Heather'” – rob 12/27/17] – That could only mean one thing: Heather’s writing her first journal entry in about … forever. We went to a great open mic tonight and I was compelled to record the details I knew rob would glaze over.

I am sitting in Pittsburgh, sniffling alongside the perpetually sick cat, my companion in illness misery. When it looks over the top of the computer screen at me, it looks exactly like The Nothing staring out of the cave at Atreau … but very small, so not nearly as scary. Sort of a cute apocalyptic monster kitten.

me and the sniffly cat.
me and the sniffly cat.

But anyway, we’re traveling again, which always fills me with an intense dual sort of productive happiness and regular-sized-apocalyptic monster dread that stares at me from over the top of my computer. On the one hand, being out makes me feel like I’m doing something, like I’m on the brink of success …

And then I start thinking about what that success might mean.

I imagine it’s the dirty little unspoken secret of everyone doing well at one thing: You are terrified it will all work out. And where will you be then? Will you be the rockstar (so you can never be the journalist), the traveler (so you can never have a kitten), the constantly near-impoverished (so you can never buy the coffeeshop/bookstore/music venue you’ve always wanted or come up with some extra cash to help pay for your brother’s college education). Will you wear the label “touring musician” and nothing else, because nothing else will fit, and there’s no time to divert your energies to a mediocre poetry career, or drag racing career, or shitty artwork hobby?

Alright. Enough of my angst. What I was really writing to tell you about was the open mic tonight. You remember about the open mic tonight? ūüôā¬†Jozart Studios¬†is an incredible multi-media sort of arts hub tucked into the backstreets of a little east-coast college town with a big west-coast name: California. Down the street from the California University of Pennsylvania, Jozart is a sprawling loft in a building celebrating its centennial in 2004.

You can sort of get an impression of the sheer size of this warehouse-sized space from the pictures - you've got to see it to believe it - I can't wait to see it in sunshine sometime.
You can sort of get an impression of the sheer size of this warehouse-sized space from the pictures – you’ve got to see it to believe it – I can’t wait to see it in sunshine sometime.

The proprietors, Bish and Jay, have just gotten the permits to maintain the place, which was a mercantile store for steel workers, etc. and¬†later reincarnated as a five-and-dime and, rumor has it, as a roller rink, which explains the arcs etched into the matte wooden floor. I imagine during the day, the space is flooded with light, but for the night-time open mic, it is sparsely dotted with antique lamps. Into this space, Jay (who does Native American reproductions) and Bish (who Jay says can do ANYTHING) have squeezed a series of small design studios, a tattoo parlor, a kitchen, a stage, a projection wall for movies, and comfy couches to admire all of it. There’s even plans for a coffee counter in the corner. It’s the kind of space that just begs for a visionary mind and a weekend warrior’s do-it-yourself attitude. Rob and I are both instantly in love with it and its possibilities, and rob laments aloud that you can’t hijack a building. The bookstore/coffeeshop/music venue owner in me is incredibly jealous.

Fellow open mic attendee Jeremy Rochart giving a highly spirited performance. I went out to the car at one point, and just to add cool points on top of an already stagrering list of attributes, you can hear the music all the way down the street.
Fellow open mic attendee Jeremy Rochart giving a highly spirited performance. I went out to the car at one point, and just to add cool points on top of an already stagrering list of attributes, you can hear the music all the way down the street.
Unfortunately, none of my shots of the stage turned out. Suffice it to say - everything about this place is big.
Unfortunately, none of my shots of the stage turned out. Suffice it to say – everything about this place is big.

I’ve learned this week about another unspoken dirty little secret among all small-time touring musicians: that to be a touring musician is to turn being judgemental into a business tool. You don’t want to do it. You WANT to believe that people are different than they look, like different music than they look like they should like based on your preconceived notions of age, race, class, dress, geographic location or the simple choice of whether they opted to spend the night in a coffeehouse or a bar. But a smart business person winds up doing a quick mental demographic sweep of the room to determine the target audience and the most effective set and advertising strategy. The way the open mics tend to go is that you have to make a snap judgement about what these people probably like based on the only information you have about them, which is largely visual. Do we play a fast set or a slow one because bar patrons are less likely to be here for music than for their regular weeknight drinking hang-out and we need to show off and grab their attention? A more folky set because we’re in a coffeehouse or a rock set because we’re in a bar? Most of the people look like they are over 35, do we include “Locomotive Breath,” “Little Wing” or “White Rabbit” to appeal to them? We’re down the street from a college and these are mostly college kids, do we do the most indie stuff to appeal to them? The one heartening thing as I become so jaded, is that our judgements this week, and most of the time, are almost never completely right. Yay for the stereotype breakers

Our Pittsburgh host, Sarah, and Da Band! Zop. Heather's just too damned cute for her own good. It's why kittens like her.
Our Pittsburgh host, Sarah, and Da Band! Zop. Heather’s just too damned cute for her own good. It’s why kittens like her.


Dude, could they have MADE a freakier billboard?

April 23rd, 2004.

Somewhere on I-76, racing through Ohio, waiting for something to change. Anything. We realized before that Ohio is boring. I was perfectly prepared for Nebraska to be the worst state ever to pass through. But Ohio… Ohio is bland stretches of nothing whihc gently fade into grey horizons, in a never-ending almost mist of rain..

Dippy the diplodocous was part of our Pittsburgh tour - driving around looking for ways to kill time before Sarah had to go back to work, we naturally turned our attention to the local dinosaurs.
Dippy the diplodocous was part of our Pittsburgh tour – driving around looking for ways to kill time before Sarah had to go back to work, we naturally turned our attention to the local dinosaurs.

It’s an unfortunate state, Ohio is.

Last night we played Howler’s Coyote Cafe. A weird name, an awesome logo. It was a jam session hosted by Tim, the fleugal horn (?) player from Aspinwall. With it, I became absolutely amazed with the jam/open stage community in Pittsburgh. I’m not really aware of anything that compares to it in Maryland.

The local musicians HERE are much more funk/jazz based – and the bass player was just – spectacular. I sat there in awe… I’d forgotten the tiny little belt that I bought SPECIFCALLY for the purpose of keeping my jaw from hitting the ground under JUST such circumstances.

DCF 1.0

Sigh – so good. Anywho, the sound guy came up to us as we were setting up and gestured to me as I was tuning my guitar (God, BAD tuning night). I couldn’t hear a damn thing, and I thought he needed to get something off the stage…

A fantastic logo at Howler's Coyote Cafe. I didn't notice him the whole time we were playing, then he made himself evident.
A fantastic logo at Howler’s Coyote Cafe. I didn’t notice him the whole time we were playing, then he made himself evident.

He sat down at the drum throne, which is NOT what I was expecting – but at that point you can’t really say “er…. I thought you’d left your like.. uh.. left your cat on stage…” and we plunged into a set and hoped for the best.

God he rocked. (wow – we almost got hit by a gargantuan heron just now!!!)

It was an awesome combination, and Dramell followed all the changes and kept up and Loved it and has agreed to be our Pittsburgh percussionist. Hell yeah!

Ah, but we’re finding that in order to make up for the absolute nothing that you find in Ohio geographically, their radio stations are awesome. Perhaps a little TOO awesome, as Heather just discovered the beauty of the high-speed 180 – not QUITE a pull-the-emergency-brake bootlegger – but she still laid down some rubber. Eep.

Wondering why Heather did the 180? Read on dear reader…


I am in Oberlin, OH just down the street from the university here, which is beautiful. Some of the buildings are very old, some new, some built in the shape of huge letters indicating geographic direction for Cold War-era pilots to fly by.

The Auto-Rama Drive-in at sunset. I encourage everyone to go to www.driveintheater.com and go support your local drive-in... they are a dying breed.
The Auto-Rama Drive-in at sunset. I encourage everyone to go to www.driveintheater.com and go support your local drive-in… they are a dying breed.

Tonight I went to see my first drive-in movie at a place just down the road from here. It’s only the third drive-in I’ve ever seen along a highway and tonight during the previews, the place showed some statistics that would reflect my experiences seeing drive-ins in America. There used to be something like 2,500 of them throughout the U.S., and now there are roughly 400 still operating. Even after we left, we could still get the F.M. radio dialogue from the films running. Rob and I both wonder if people in the neighborhoods within a mile radius or so stay home at night listening to those dialogues like old radio programs or presidential addresses. Everything about small towns like this feels like it’s so long ago. You forget what year it is in towns like this, which I sort of like.


Yeah, the¬†“Auto-rama” drive-in¬†was awesome. T’was a double bill of Kill Bill 2 and Walking Tall… we actually didn’t end up sticking around for KBvol2 since you’re sitting there with the engine off and it actually got really cold.

Sharif has come out with us to Oberlin, and I can’t wait for Ren Fair tomorrow. I wish he could stick around and go back to Pittsburgh with us. Sigh. But it’s good to have him here. I’d Love for him to be able to travel with us on a permanent basis.

It’s just not an available option yet – we picked up a booking agent a couple of weeks ago, so maybe the money will flow freer sometime soon, but we’d also need to change vehicles. Driving two cars everywhere would just be silly. I was stupid to ever sell my VW bus. It would be perfect for this.

Sharif and I throw candy back and forth from car to car. The poor boy fell prey to my superior bombadier SweetTart skills. // Sharif says: BAH! Superior bombadier skills, my ass. More like superior "not f*cking expecting a sweet tart to land in my nachos" skills. Anyhow, I ended up spilling those nachos during the movie, but luckily the cheese was viscous enough to not ooze out of its containter. Besides, It gave me an opportunity to go talk to the jail bait working the concession stand. Oh - Sharif's soo right, I forgot about the jail bait. All the underage hotties work at drive-ins.
Sharif and I throw candy back and forth from car to car. The poor boy fell prey to my superior bombadier SweetTart skills. // Sharif says: BAH! Superior bombadier skills, my ass. More like superior “not f*cking expecting a sweet tart to land in my nachos” skills. Anyhow, I ended up spilling those nachos during the movie, but luckily the cheese was viscous enough to not ooze out of its containter. Besides, It gave me an opportunity to go talk to the jail bait working the concession stand.
Oh – Sharif’s soo right, I forgot about the jail bait. All the underage hotties work at drive-ins.

April 27th, 2004.

Sitting at Sarah’s, being fed by her boy, Matt. We did NOT know that he’d gone to culinary school. Good lord. I want to draw his ear to my mouth and whisper… “Last night was amazing”. Filet mignon and potato salad made with hot ballpark mustard. This morning, we awoke to steak and eggs with just an edge of spice.

S h u d d e r.

Sooo fine.

I like the way the meat came. A case of steaks, cased in plastic. Mmmm… meat buttons.

Happy yellow.
Happy yellow.
Ha! Lady Bugs on Lake Erie!
Ha! Lady Bugs on Lake Erie!
Yes, finding the pretties. Sea-shells and sea glass and things gleaming in the sun.
Yes, finding the pretties. Sea-shells and sea glass and things gleaming in the sun.

June 5th, 2004.

Well the rain’s finally letting up, which is good, because we’re only about two hours out from Pittsburgh, and we’re theoretically playing outside up there.

We’ll see, as the skies retain a sullen, grey look to them.

It was strange, getting THIS Saturn all loaded up. Heather’s had to revise her vision of how everything fits together in the car – mine’s a little bit wider, but things are in different places, and we’re travelling with more stuff than usual, as we’ll be camping in Paw Paw, West Virginia.

We couldn't be musicians without a shot like this. It's even better since "Something Clever" is Heather's signature text on the ilyAIMY forum.
We couldn’t be musicians without a shot like this. It’s even better since “Something Clever” is Heather’s signature text on the ilyAIMY forum.

I’m writing emails and remembering sunrises of the past – flying North to Boston and watching the dawn over a cliff face of clouds – waking up to a spectacular morning in the mountains of Colorado – waiting for the sunrise over Baltimore rooftops, standing on tiptoes and hoping for a kiss from Audrey back at school – sneaking out of my parents’ house with a blanket and watching the sun come up with Whitney over the lawn of my old elementary school.

So much sunshine in my head. Absolutely none in the sky.

And the radio stations all pretty much suck.

Heather and I are dreaming up wish lists and movie parties… for the moment, this is what’s on the wish list:
In no particular order…
GPS laptop card
Postage
Blank CDs
Blank DVDs
Epson 900 Colour Stylus ink jet cartridges
Gas cards
Mix cds
A big paper clip
A NEW CAR!!!
Capos
Strings (medium gauge acoustic)
Interesting video files on CD or DVD
Office supply gift certificates
CD labels
Fingernails (nailene sportslength ‚Äď NOT square tip or those weird claw things)
Electrical tape
A GOOD street team
A new run of stickers
A new run of postcards
A new run of posters

Don’t know what we plan to do with that, I’m working on getting the “help” section of ilyaimy.com back up and running (wow – passing GORGEOUS cloud-crowned mountains right now – the rain’s cleared out just enough to see them – I want to take pictures – $1.89 GAS!!! – but we managed to pack the drum on top of my camera. Sigh) so we can get back to a more teched up version of begging.

Oh – and there’s mention of “my show” on the previous page, and I’m realizing that that is perhaps the first time I’ve really mentioned it ANYWHERE.

Well, I’m reawakening the whole art side of my world, and with that comes gallery shows. So yesterday was spent framing and reframing and packaging about 30 pieces for a show in Baltimore. More information on that as it becomes available.

June 6th, 2004.

So, normally, in Pittsburgh, we’d be staying with our friend Sarah at her apartment, but circumstances have lead us to staying with Sarah at her parents, and we were really worried about that at first. But the parents, though perhaps wary at first, seem to have accepted us just fine. And frankly, we were at home as soon as Sarah’s mom came running at us screaming “OH MY GOD it’s ILYAIMY!!!!” Enthusiasm coupled with correct pronunciation and I’m happy.

This kid was walking back and forth through this ghost-town of a festival, dragging his umberella back and forth.
This kid was walking back and forth through this ghost-town of a festival, dragging his umberella back and forth.
The DRAGON COMETH!!!
The DRAGON COMETH!!!
So, we were JUST setting up to play under a tent, sharing it with a dampened stained glass seller, when these guys started up, shattering the silence of the street, and drowning out ANY possibility of our playing.
So, we were JUST setting up to play under a tent, sharing it with a dampened stained glass seller, when these guys started up, shattering the silence of the street, and drowning out ANY possibility of our playing.

Yesterday’s drive terminated in a frantic hunt for parking, and the jostling jolting of curb hugging pressure that comes with parallel parking. I’m really bad at it, and Heather hasn’t healed well enough to really parallel park that easily in my Saturn, which doesn’t have power steering.

Barrett Black's unconventional cello sounds attracted me away from the dragon. He plays cello the way I play guitar - the way yer not supposed to.
Barrett Black’s unconventional cello sounds attracted me away from the dragon. He plays cello the way I play guitar – the way yer not supposed to.
Heather got this show of the dragon swallowing children
Heather got this show of the dragon swallowing children.

People who’ve never driven a car without power steering, can NOT really appreciate this.

Heather engulfed by kids, pretty much our only audience at the Penn Avenue Arts Festival.
Heather engulfed by kids, pretty much our only audience at the Penn Avenue Arts Festival.
DCF 1.0

The Penn Ave Festival (and I KNOW I’m calling it something slightly wrong, I’m sure Heather will correct me) was not a bust, but only by a hair and three dollars. The grey drizzle wasn’t heavy, but it WAS persistant – we ALMOST had a stage when another performer was late, and we ALMOST had a tarp when another performer¬†ended early, but most of our performance was spent with a watchful eye on the sky, peeking out from under an entrance ledge – praying that a downpour wouldn’t come out of nowhere and wash us all away.

Sarah's parents' beautiful house. The whole structure is settling in weird ways so that all the floors are slanted and tilted and kind of disconcerting. Fantastic house though. Nooks and crannies and curves.
Sarah’s parents’ beautiful house. The whole structure is settling in weird ways so that all the floors are slanted and tilted and kind of disconcerting. Fantastic house though. Nooks and crannies and curves.

Our audience consisted of passerby’s who had that look in their eye of “going someplace” – and children with balloons who had nowhere else to go – they enjoyed us a LOT, much mirth and dancing and we WERE the centre of the party, but… it was cold and it was wet and we were damp and we were brief. Soon, we took a detour into a local pet store (CAUSE WE LIKE PETS!!!) and headed over to a bus station to pick up Sarah.

And through a circuitous route, that leads us back to the third floor of Sarah’s parents’ house, with Skitz the kitten in tow. Her parents’ have volunteered to finally take the tiny beast to the vet (her breathing sounds worse than it ever has), and though I’m grateful for that, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, listening for the tiny creature’s tiny noises, and was kind of panicked this morning, when I couldn’t hear her at all.

Frantic and silent searching – Heather and I have NOT slept much recently, and Friday was completely exhauting, leaving us without much in the way of reserves. Sarah and Heather are still unconscious, and I didn’t want to bother them, hunting around for the kitten, but – with how attached Heather has become to Skitz, the idea of her choking to death over night… Heather would be mortified to have this vital, curious creature replaced with a limp sack of fur. It would be worse than the crash.

So, waking up and not hearing Skitz made me kind of fearful. I found her eventually, sleeping peacefully in the crook of Sarah’s knee, but she sounds TERRIBLE. Hopping around, she is snortling and sniffing and sneezing (not too unlike myself at the moment, actually – I always react poorly to Sarah’s incense) and as usual, trying to type on the keyboard.

Here, let’s see if she’ll have something to say…. nope nothing right now, she’s gone¬†into the bathroom with Sarah.

It’s unfortunate. There’s a lot more I have to say… but some of it – well, I DO censor myself on occassion. A lot of occassions. I’m trying to keep my mouth shut a LOT these days. A lot of things I really should not have an opinion on.

June 6, 2004

Yesterday I visited my first American bus station, and though I’d never been to one before … it was almost like I had. So much of it was this perfect visual cliche of 1950s linoleum, silver-grouted floors of old elementary schools, mass-produced industrial office furniture, the bland greens and the utilitarian fonts all under the same dull flourescent cast, the lists of destinations, the grey timeless uniforms of the aging Black bus drivers. It was …. what my brain told me before I even walked inside ….. EXACTLY what “bus station” should look like.

The archetypical bus station demands your soul.
The archetypical bus station demands your soul.

In fact, it looked SO much like what I thought it should, that it almost had the effect of looking like a movie set … the way, as Terry Pratchett says, things MADE to¬†look like something often have the effect of looking MORE accurately like that something than the original. But this … this was so real it was almost fake.

And there was even a young couple embracing tearfully. The long-haired man looked well-traveled, wearing a worn leather jacket, black jeans, black boots and a stuffed backpack that looked too heavy for his thin frame and included a sleeping bag on the bottom and a silver liquor flask in a net pocket. The young woman had no backpack, and it was obvious whom was leaving whom. Both of their faces and eyes were flushed red and damp, and as the line to the buses moved forward, they would break from time to time and then hold onto each other again, and as she buried her face in his neck, I could only see his face and the way he held onto her hair, and I knew what her face must look like buried, damp in the shoulder of his leather jacket and the way her warm breath and her hot, salty tears must be making the air in that space between them so humid and thick.

And in that moment, I snapped a quiet, flashless picture.
And I’m not sure why I did it.

There were a lot of thoughts in my head. I was thinking that it was this movie moment in real life. I was thinking what a shame it was that at those moments in our lives, someone is not standing there with a camera … with something … preserving our pain, lending those moments the archival importance they deserve. Or the way those moments take forever to get through while they are happening, and then seem to fly from our memory so fast we can hardly believe it. Fuck graduations and proms …

where are the pictures from the REAL important moments in our lives, not just the socially presribed ones.

I watched him hold her hand as he stepped out the door to the waiting buses, only letting go at the last possible moment, when their outstretched arms had exhausted all their length and their fingerprints couldn’t leap the gap between them any more.

And with all these thoughts in my head, I almost wanted to walk up to her and tell her I had seen it. I had seen that moment and it had happened, and the moment itself was truly as sad as she looked and as she felt it to be. And then I would show her the little digital frame as some kind of proof of that. And then she could look at herself from the outside. She could see what I had seen. How I had seen her. That someone besides her and her departing lover had seen it, would remember it. That in this place of so many such departures, this one was somehow important.

I did not do this. I figured she might think I was crazy, or worse yet, that it was completely insensitive and innappropriate and she might be offended. Was I, in fact, raping their moment or actually cheapening it by making it fake to make it real; Making it two-dimensional, making it digital, making it something I could carry in my pocket, making it something I could process? I didn’t want the picture¬†for anything. I will not print it or publish it and had no such intention at the moment I took it. I just … I had to take it. I couldn’t let it just go by. Letting it just go by, in a way, seemed more like cheapening the moment when I had the unique ability to care, and to capture it.

So it’s funny how many of those moments, those frozen images have been burned into our retinas by a movie or television screen before we even actually see them for the first time in real life: the departure at the bus station, the way an old school building¬†looks and the way that architecture and decor changes us and our behavior as we take our cues from it. These images are so archetypal that even children understand what to do with them in the case of our open guitar case as we were busking on the street¬†at the Penn Avenue Community Festival yesterday. We made three crumpled dollar bills in tips, each one of them bestowed to us by a passing child. They didn’t know¬†why¬†they were giving it to us or what we would do with the money, but they saw an open guitar case next to two people playing instruments, and balloon-hatted little girls and boys – who could not have been more than eight years old – pulled dollars from their pockets and placed them inside.

I don’t know whether to be happy or to be sad. I don’t know whether I should be thankful that, in this world where understanding and communication are often the most difficult things to come by, that we have these shared experiences and these archetypal moments to unite us or to help us take in the world. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism teacher of mine told us that a sure-fire way to write a good feature piece was to start with a cliche and work our way from there. That the stories we connect with the most and the best are ones that start from a place of common understanding or experience … those movie-plot-script-perfect moments that fall into catch-phrases like: “Man v. Man. Man v. Self. Man v. Society. Man v. God,” or “Underdog Wins!” and “Boy Rescues Cat Out of Tree.”

Are we all just filling the same character roles, rotating one over for each different situation in our lives, playing the same scenes with different people or as a different person in the same scene in a history of repetitions? And do our scenes have to be documented on celluloid to be validated, or important or REALLY REALLY REAL?

And if all this is true, does that mean we are boring, unoriginal, and not striving as we should to create our own experiences …

Or does it mean that, at the heart of this often-isolating life, we all have so much more in common than we ever think? That the cliches that surround living, dying, loving, losing are all there for a reason. Are even maybe a comfort ….

I don’t know. But I took a picture of it.

June 9th, 2004.

Unrelated. Here's an alligator. Alllll eeee gaaaay tor.

Unrelated. Here’s an alligator. Alllll eeee gaaaay tor.

At around 1.30am last night, Heather and I turned in on the third floor of a rickety,¬†disused, Pittsburgh townhouse. There are two tiny single beds and an oscillating fan that moves just enough air to make me jealous of Heather’s skin when it turns it’s attention from me to her. The room is orange.

I didn’t realize that last part at the time, actually – we turned in exhausted last night – but this morning, I slowly come-to to birds and orange.

No, last night, I was just aware of weird architecture and a LOT of stairs. We’d worn ourselves thin with one of the best days anyone has ever had.

A fantastic Tuesday.

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Heather catching creatures. She dipped her fingers in sugar water and then tried multiple butterfly calls, mostly involving a cute voice and "oh... come here... you WANT to come here..."
Heather catching creatures. She dipped her fingers in sugar water and then tried multiple butterfly calls, mostly involving a cute voice and “oh… come here… you WANT to come here…”
This guy wanted to be one with my jeans. Jeans in general, really - once he found a grip - he started climbing Hell bent for crotch. Maybe he just feared the flames.
This guy wanted to be one with my jeans. Jeans in general, really – once he found a grip – he started climbing Hell bent for crotch. Maybe he just feared the flames.
AH, the beautiful Harlot Butterfly. The moment she left me she was off to another.
AH, the beautiful Harlot Butterfly. The moment she left me she was off to another.
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Yesterday morning, we woke up in a very different third story room: Sarah’s little apartment, in contrast to the rest of her parents’ house, is scattered with posters and paper and clothes and carpet and one kitten filled with enough frenzy that it feels like it’s scattered with Skitz, too.

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DCF 1.0

We slowly roused ourselves and took a Day. A day for ourselves.

We had been seeing signs around town for the Phipp’s Conservatory, and specifically, their butterfly house. I’d never heard of a butterfly house before, and Heather was all excited, so we decided that that was where we’d start. We drove through the (almost) summer air, through a golf course (posted: “Golf Course Drive at Your Own Risk”) and down into the myriad parks that congregate on this side of Pittsburgh, hunting for parking.

An asparagus fern, just like the ones I would get from my mom... and just like the ones I always ended up killing. +/- the fact that this one's alive... and HUGE.
An asparagus fern, just like the ones I would get from my mom… and just like the ones I always ended up killing. +/- the fact that this one’s alive… and HUGE.
DCF 1.0
There was a whole orchid house - we have dozens of photographs of these vicious looking flowers. You only get this one... the rest are for Liz.
There was a whole orchid house – we have dozens of photographs of these vicious looking flowers. You only get this one… the rest are for Liz.
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Tuesday. Go see Phipp’s Conservatory on a Tuesday. The parking is easy, and the crowds are non-existant. We got to wander the gardens and greenhouses almost completely alone. We caught glimpses of two or three other couples, three or four employees – fleeting catches of company through the leaves and through the paths of the place, the only place where it was even remotely populated was the Butterfly House itself, and even then, it never went beyond about five other souls in the place…

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DCF 1.0
Heather enters the Fern Room.
Heather enters the Fern Room.
Bunny ears in the Cactus Room. Apparently "garden origin" means they've been bred specifically for display, and don't neccessarily take this form in nature.
Bunny ears in the Cactus Room. Apparently “garden origin” means they’ve been bred specifically for display, and don’t neccessarily take this form in nature.
DCF 1.0

Well, that’s assuming that the butterflies don’t have souls. I hope not, in a way – apparently their Lifespan is perhaps a week for most, and even though they hatch about 330 every Tuesday, they average just over 300 butterflies in the place on any given day. Their little brochure talks about how at the end of the exhibit, they keep the temperature and humidity set for the butterflies until the last one dies – and Heather turns to me and asks “Can you imagine being the last butterfly?” A¬†question that hurts my heart.

It fills me with loneliness, and fills my skull with morbid images of the people on butterfly body patrol, scooping them up with little shovels, having fifty little butterfly funerals a day, or perhaps they are cremated in butterfly bonfires? Or perhaps, and probably most likely, they are thrown in the trash, and in among leaf clippings and paper refuse, there are clumps of faded colour and twisted speckled bodies, wadded up and tossed away.

But the actual Butterfly House was like… like nothing I’d ever seen. It was like we’d wandered in through Jen’s backdoor and there might’ve been a Mystic behind a tree – it was THAT magical. Multicoloured wings fluttered everywhere, fighting the breezes and lighting on flowers and leaves and each other. They filled the air like a b-grade fantasy movie sans the glitter.

The only thing marring the mood was that the whole of the Phipp’s Conservatory contains little hidden speakers, and the butterflies, apparently, have a taste for smoooth jazz. Or perhaps it was HOT jazz. In any case, I think I would’ve preferred silence and the muffled sounds of city-Life and construction – I don’t think the butterflies would’ve minded.

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Heather giving Dippy the Diplog... diploda... the dinosaur some Love.
Heather giving Dippy the Diplog… diploda… the dinosaur some Love.
The Heinz Memorial Chapel. Now HERE I believe in th epresence of God. Or at least the devotion to it.
The Heinz Memorial Chapel. Now HERE I believe in th epresence of God. Or at least the devotion to it.
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Heather laughed at me as I entered - as my eyes adjusted to the light, my breath caught. It was beyond beautiful. It was heavenly, which, I gather, is the idea.
Heather laughed at me as I entered – as my eyes adjusted to the light, my breath caught. It was beyond beautiful. It was heavenly, which, I gather, is the idea.

I’m going through the photographs of the greenhouses now, some two hundred +, and I’m realizing that there’s just no way to capture the place without a more concerted effort than I made. The air in the butterfly house was ALIVE.

After we had glutted ourselves visually in the Conservatory, we ventured further into the city in search of food. What we found instead was even more visual feasting. Two cathedrals (one to learning, one to God – guess which one was beautiful on the inside, and which one was air-conditioned) and hundreds of people to watch – we finally got up-close and personal with Dippy and ended up lunching at a food chain, which was probably bad, but one of my favourites (Baja Fresh) which was good.

The Cathedral of Knowledge.
The Cathedral of Knowledge.
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Monday night, on the other hand, was one of our worst nights ever. It's always embarassing to have a friend come with you to a bad open mic... much MORE embarassing to have her friend come with her. Sound was awful, audience was awful, and the whole thing started more than two hours later than usual. It was agonizing, and a waste of a night.
Monday night, on the other hand, was one of our worst nights ever. It’s always embarassing to have a friend come with you to a bad open mic… much MORE embarassing to have her friend come with her. Sound was awful, audience was awful, and the whole thing started more than two hours later than usual. It was agonizing, and a waste of a night.

So, at this point, we were pretty exhausted and very filled with Mexican food. After some asking around, we found that there were no movie theatres within walking distance – and decided to return to Squirrel Hill to see if we could catch something in the dark, air-conditioned caverns of todays movie houses… Shrek II? Mr. Potter?

Whatever would get us out of the heat.

We ended up in a sparsely populated viewing of Harry Potter III, and I was amazed. Right from the opening graphics of the slowly flashing WB, everything was different, and I could feel those slow spinal tinglings as I realized I was watching something beautiful.

Everything that had been missing in the previous two movies: a sense of Magic, a sense of joy, beauty, discovery and awe – had found itself into this sequel, and I’m agonized to hear that this director has decided NOT to do the next one.

And we finished out the day at the Aspinwall Grille. I want to organize a trip with friends… NOW. It has to go up to Pittsburgh on a Tuesday, stay the night after hanging out at the Aspinwall Grille, and then come home. The BEST pick-up band I’ve ever seen plays here. Fantastically different from the last time we were there (only one horn player, different lead guy), last night was focused more on blues numbers and the amazing lead guitar of Craig. A tall black man built like a construction worker with a soulful Jimi Hendrix voice and a blazing guitar style to match. He even did the whole playing behind his head and with his teeth stuff.

My spine just spent the whole day yesterday in a state of wonder and tingle.

So delightful.

October 8th, 2004.

Was it just last night? We played Steve Key’s birthday party – 47 singer/songwriters for 47 years.A billion chocolate cupcakes and a fantastic giant German chocolate hoho. More a bouche de noel with a bit of coconut icing on top. And candy, and stuff.

Happy Heather at Pittsburgh University. Rowan grabbed my camera and actually captured Heather ... GRINNING!!!
Happy Heather at Pittsburgh University. Rowan grabbed my camera and actually captured Heather … GRINNING!!!
The ceiling of Pittsburgh University's Bellefield Hall, where we played for their Habitat for Humanity benefit. They doubled the amount of money they brought in from last year, so they were pretty pleased. I'd Love to say that that was pretty much a result of us playing there, but that would be a lie. Anywho, a big thank you to Erin for taking a chance on us and inviting us up last Friday.
The ceiling of Pittsburgh University’s Bellefield Hall, where we played for their Habitat for Humanity benefit. They doubled the amount of money they brought in from last year, so they were pretty pleased. I’d Love to say that that was pretty much a result of us playing there, but that would be a lie. Anywho, a big thank you to Erin for taking a chance on us and inviting us up last Friday.

Oh yeah – and some music.

Steve Key blowing out the candles on his cupcake cake.
Steve Key blowing out the candles on his cupcake cake.
The Steve Key band.
The Steve Key band performing for Steve Key’s birthday at the Electric Maid in Washington DC.

Forty-seven singer/songwriters all in one place amounts to a whole lot of music, and at one song each, it means that even if you don’t like what’s on the stage at the moment, if you wait for five minutes, something else takes its place. But I was rarely¬†truly wishing for change. Steve was truly showing off his friends – some amazing players, amazing voices.

Cletus Kennelly performing for Steve Key's birthday
Cletus Kennelly performing for Steve Key’s birthday
Matt Holsen.
Matt Holsen.

But the highlight of the night was Steve’s performance… he had put together a little pick-up band for the evening – percussion, bass (I don’t remember their names, because I’m THAT forgetful, but the bass player was playing a gorgeous custom-built six-string and used to play for Ray Charles and the Temptations). And on lead instrument (mandolin and guitar), the beautiful and horrifically unattainable Avril Smith.

They only played four songs, but – there’s something so pure about his music. It’s hard to explain, and I think a lot of people don’t really understand why his music in particular effects me the way it does. He writes good, solid, American folk. He writes political music without being overbearing, and Love songs without being sacharine.

He writes incredibly personal music that strikes me to the core. There’s a lot of really good, solid music out there, especially in our circles. I mean, Hell, how often am I struck with shock at how GOOD the musicians are in our circle of friends? But Steve Key really shakes me – some of the writers that we cross paths – they are too clever almost… I’m distracted by the craft – which is a difficult concept to explain to people who don’t get it.

Sometimes a fascination with the brush strokes can interrupt the appreciation of a painting – when the painter is more in Love with the craft than with the overall piece. I don’t think it’s even something that most people would notice, but it’s the driving force of my hatred for a LOT of folk music right now… a lot of art in general, actually – performing and visual. There’s too much of the artist sitting back and sort of pointing something out to you – pointing and saying “see, wasn’t that clever? I am a Good Songwriter”. Steve’s work never has that pretention. They’re just Good Songs.

Beast from Sunday's crab feest.
Beast from Sunday’s crab feest.
Takoma Park Street Fest, Amanda, a cat and Sharif. One of these is allergic to another.
Takoma Park Street Fest, Amanda, a cat and Sharif. One of these is allergic to another.
Takoma Park Street Festival.
Takoma Park Street Festival.
Heather playing at the Crab Feast.
Warming up at the crab feast.
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DCF 1.0
DCF 1.0
Driving home over the Harbor.
Driving home over the Harbor.