Memory Lane: 1991, the Grunge Era

I met Pearl Jam.

Live, in person!

I actually hung out with Jeff Ament and Mike McCready for part of a day when they were in Pittsburgh. I have the clip from my college newspaper to prove it.

Of course, this all took place 20 years ago — 20 YEARS AGO — and I’m sure none of the Pearl Jam boys recall spending time with a college newspaper writer chickie from Pittsburgh when they were first starting out.

But I remember it.


In 1991 I was bored with college music. I had eschewed Top 40 radio for years already, and I was never a huge “classic rock” fan — I mean, I like me some Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd, but in Pittsburgh? You hear — still, to this day — the same classic rock songs over and over and over again.


I was continually looking for something new to listen to (a trait I clearly still have), and I hadn’t heard anything that had turned me on in a couple of years. I was faithful to the B-52s and Depeche Mode and The Cure (gosh remember when those bands were college alternative bands? No? Get off my lawn!), but I was bored.

Then a friend of mine, Ro, became the Sony record label college rep, and started receiving all kinds of swag. I was writing for The Duquesne Duke, eventually becoming Features editor, and, in 1991, editor in chief.

One day Ro handed me a cassette tape (remember cassette tapes?). “Check this out,” she said. “You might like these guys.”

So began my love affair with grunge music in general, and Pearl Jam (and not too much later, Nirvana) specifically.

Ten, Pearl Jam’s debut album, lit me on fire. I couldn’t stop listening to it. Something about the driving guitars combined with Eddie Vedder’s vocal growl immediately and viscerally captivated me. See also: the bass line on “Why Go”.

And just like that, I was excited by music again.


Ament, McCready, and I kind of wandered around downtown Pittsburgh and Duquesne’s campus talking about Pearl Jam (original name, anyone? Without looking it up?), Seattle, Pittsburgh, music in general, and basketball (the Pearl Jam guys were basketball FREAKS). I told them how much I was really liking Ten, and they told me some about making the album, meeting Vedder, and how much they were enjoying being out on the road playing live.

Later that night, I saw Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, and Red Hot Chili Peppers in concert.

God, remember Smashing Pumpkins?

Pearl Jam opened the concert, and, as Ro and Sony’s guest, and as a writer for the college paper, I got to go backstage afterward and meet the rest of the band (Stone Gossard — HAWT — and Dave Abbruzzese). I got their autographs — er, on the jean shorts I was wearing at the time — but I didn’t get to meet Eddie Vedder. He was busy harassing Billy Corgan by dancing on stage during the Pumpkins’ set. I believe either Flea or Anthony Kiedis was out there with him. They were wearing tutus if memory serves. (And, no, Corgan was not a good sport.)


And here we are — here they are — 20 years later, with a Cameron Crowe documentary about to screen, re-releases and live albums dropping, and the same line up of guys (except for the revolving door drummer thing).

I have been listening for 20 years, but it’s been awhile since I got to see them live. Gonna have to fix that soon. Lollapalooza at Starlake (circa 1993?) is still one of my favorite concerts of all time. Each of their albums (with the exception of Binaural; I never really got into that one) was better than the last.

They are, and their music is, still exciting me.


What have you been listening to for 20 years? What do you think you’ll be listening to the next 20?

Memory Lane: Back to School

The thing I liked best about going back to school was back-to-school shopping.

As we went to Catholic school and wore uniforms, this was much less about clothes than about BTS supplies. New folders, new notebooks, new pens and pencils. That’s the stuff I liked. Although I was not above going out of my way for a unique pair of shoes, cordavan (or oxblood) if I could find them. One year I recall finding brown shoes with a buckle. I loved those shoes. I still am not much of a clothes horse, but give me some time in a shoe department, and I will find something unique. Something that is “me”.

It’s still fun now, shopping with the girls. Again, we don’t do a lot in the clothes department. Between hand me downs and grandmothers, my children do not want for clothing. I do like picking up special outfits every now and again, but we don’t blow the budget on clothes. (Not for me, either. I miss the days of uniforms!) Now it is a little more stressful because it’s our money.

I don’t think the supplies have changed much though. Kate didn’t need much because her preschool is also a daycare center (her daycare center as of tomorrow) and is well-stocked with crayons, scissors, and the like. She needed an art T-shirt and an icing container to hold her supplies. Throughout the year I’m sure she’ll need certain supplies, and she has a snack day or two coming up. We also bought her a new lunch bag.

Flora needed the usual: crayons, folders, a pencil case, a backpack. And something different: headphones for computer class! She and I made a special trip to Target a few weeks back. I let her look and browse (a little) and, yes, choose what she wanted. Then she had a lot of fun labeling everything with her name and packing  up her backpack for her first day.

God bless my girls; they seem to love school and love learning. I remember loving school, too, loving learning new things. I probably wasn’t so good with the social aspect of things, but I didn’t want for friends, and I never felt the lack of not being a “popular” girl. I hope that my girls are a lucky as I was, and love to learn and explore as much as I did.

And if they have life-long friends, too, so much the better. I certainly got lucky there, too.

Memory Lane: Fear of the Dark

Kate goes back and forth about sleeping in her own bed. She usually wants to fall asleep with Flora in Flora’s bed. At one point, a bribe worked (seven days in a row in her own bed = new toy of her choice!), but it’s not working this time around.

At another point, she said she was scared of our bedroom door. The door was recently installed, and up until that point, Dan and I hadn’t had a bedroom door (DO NOT ASK).

I was puzzled at first. “You’re scared of our door?” I asked Kate.

“I’m afraid when it’s open,” she said.

I looked across the hallway from Kate’s bed. Our bedroom door was open a little bit, and our room was dark. From Kate’s bed it looked like a slice of pitch blackness.

I saw her point. Anything could be lurking back there.

“How about if I close the door?” I gently suggested.

The relief that showed on her face broke my heart a little bit. “Okay, Mommy. I’ll sleep in my bed if you shut your door.” Which I now do every night before the girls go to bed.

But last night, she again balked at sleeping in her bed.

“I’m afraid of what’s behind me,” she told me.

I was sitting on her bed. “Well, one way Flora is behind you in her bed. And the other way is your dresser and the wall.”

She whispered, “I’m afraid of what’s behind my bed.”

I whispered back, “What do you mean, baby girl?”

“I’m afraid something is going to raise up. From, like, under my bed. And scare me.”

I was utterly speechless. This was such an exact echo of my own fears of the dark as a child, I didn’t know what to do or say.


When I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark, too. I was an extremely imaginative child — today’s most redundant phrase — and I could come up with all kinds of scary stuff in my head. Shadows from outside were actually monsters; the boogie man lived in my closet (of course!), and things lurked under my bed. If I wasn’t vigilant, they would poke up their heads (or tentacles), and when I turned over and opened my eyes, they would scare me — then eat me. Of course.

The solution was to leave the hallway light on. As every child knows, light is anathema to creatures of the dark. They can’t come out from their lairs if the light is on. Simple.

I also, like many a child before me, convinced myself that as long as my blanket was pulled up to my neck, I was invulnerable to being touched by any creepy crawlies. This didn’t wholly solve the problem of being scared by jack-in-the-box boogie men from the side of my bed, but that was what the light was for.

I eventually, as a teenager, got over my fears of the dark. (Not, however, of my fear of closet doors that are open at night. That’s a post for another day. I blame Stephen King.)


And now here is my 4-year-old daughter in that boat.

Last night, I just hugged her. I didn’t try to reason that “monsters aren’t real”, that the dark isn’t hiding any creepy crawlies. That wouldn’t have worked on me as a child.

The girls already sleep with multiple night lights (an angel night light, an LED alarm clock, the bathroom light) — although in an interesting twist, Flora has decided she’s not afraid of the dark any more, so she wants everything (except the clock, which changes colors) turned off.

Because of Kate’s continued fears, I have not done that.

I hesitate to tell Kate about her magic blanket. It seems that saying something like, “But if you pull you blankets up around you when you sleep, nothing can get you!” would only confirm her hypothesis that MONSTERS ARE REAL! That there IS something to fear from under her bed or behind my bedroom door.

I’m not sure what to do next, if there is anything to do next. We’ve experimented with “angel spray” with mixed results. We talk about good things to dream about (pink and purple ponies or puppies lead the list) as i am putting them to bed. We have a faithful routine to which we stick. And we assure both girls that they are safe, in our house, in their room, in their own beds. I check on them a couple of times until I go to bed, and I always, right before I go to bed, go into their rooms, tuck the blankets around them a little tighter, and kiss them on the cheeks. It’s one of my favorite times of the day.

Is this anything else I can do to help Kate? Or just continue to reassure her until she, too, outgrows her fear of the dark?

Memory Lane: Space Shuttle Challenger

I was in my freshman year French class.

My French teacher, God rest his soul, was a weird dude. I wish I remembered his name. He wore the widest ties with the craziest patterns, completely mismatched outfits, and often appeared to be in his own French-speaking la-la land.

But hey, when I traveled to Paris for spring break one year, I had enough high school French under my belt to get by.

It started to snow. Then the principal came on the public announcement system. I thought for sure they were going to send us home early — that an Erie blizzard was starting up.

So what she told us instead didn’t make sense at first.


They didn’t send us home early. When I got home from school that day, I watched the footage of it on the news.

This was the days before cable news, before the 24-hour news cycle. Interest in the launch was probably higher than usual because of the presence of a teacher on board the shuttle.

They played it over and over again. I finally turned it off.

“Why do they keep showing it?” I asked my mom. She shrugged at me; I remember she looked sad and troubled, touched by the deaths of those astronauts.

“They announced it at school,” I told her. “I thought they were sending us home early.”

“It started to snow right when it happened,” she told me. “I wondered about that. If the launch had something to do with the weather. Isn’t that strange?”


Today, space shuttle Atlantis lifted off for NASA’s final shuttle mission. As I listened to the news this morning, I thought about Christa McAuliffe, and that long-ago classroom. About the legacy of space flight, about what comes next.

I wonder if my children will travel to the stars, to the moon, to other planets. If they want to, I hope they get the opportunity. What a dream that would be.

Do you remember the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster? Where were you? Do you think your kids will go into space?

Memory Lane: Grandpa Frank

My mom’s dad — and Olympia’s husband — had some interesting sayings.

“When not in use, turn out the juice.”

“‘I see,’ said the blind man, as he picked up his hammer and saw.”

“Know what I mean, Jellybean?”

That’s what he used to call me: Jellybean — and Twiggy. (Hey, I was a skinny kid.) I used to protest Jellybean as a nickname because I didn’t like jellybeans; still don’t for that matter. “Well, what do you like?” he would ask. “String beans,” I would say.

Yeah, I was a weird kid, too.

My grandfather was, for me, the quintessential old Italian man. He was incredibly stoic, often grumpy. He didn’t say a lot. He had a garden and a plum tree that he cultivated, and while it looked as if he wore the pants in the family, looking back, I think my grandmother ruled the roost from the kitchen. Grandpa drank dago red — probably made in the basement — at Sunday dinners. He hated Germans (Krauts he called them) and Jews — which is something I never understood. Not that he was pretty racist (hey, it was a different, less politically correct time), but that he chose these two groups for his specific ire. It seems to me you would kind of love Germans if you hated Jewish people, or hate Germans but like Jewish people.

His basement was a treasure trove. He had a workbench with a vise, and numerous jars filled with nuts, bolts, screws, washers, and just about any other small metal object you can think of, plus magnets galore. To this day, I have no idea what he did with this stuff. He also had a garage simply filled with useless junk and toys from Marx Toys, where he and my grandmother had worked.

One of the things I remember the most about my grandfather was how he would look after my little sister when she was sick and my mother had to go to work. My mother didn’t go back to work full time until Krissy was in first grade, so we never were really in daycare. Whenever Dr. Sis would get too sick for school, Mom would call Grandpa, and he would come over.

My sister has fond memories of this time. They bickered constantly and they were best friends. My grandfather used to poke, and poke, and poke. “Noooooo,” my sister would whine when he antagonized her. Yet, she brought out the sweetness in him. I honestly don’t think any of us grandchildren got him to smile the way Krissy did. I believe he used to make her egg drop chicken noodle soup, too. He made her feel better, always, every time.


My Kate — who shares a birthday with Dr. Sis — has been running a fever since Sunday afternoon. (As an aside: I have noticed a pattern with Kate: when she is run down — if a day or weekend has been over-the-top busy, she will spike a temperature that lasts a few days. I’m going to talk to her pediatrician about it. Maybe it’s a chicken egg thing: She is run down and a bug she has been fighting off takes advantage of a weakened immune system, or she picks up a bug because she’s run down. But I don’t know, and I think I should talk to a doctor.)

She has been hanging out with her Tadone — her Italian grandfather. He’s different than Grandpa Frank — much more cheerful, for one! — but I see the same kind of dynamic with the two of them. He calls Kate “a pistol”, and she is, and they share a love of music and YouTube videos.

Hey, it’s better than Fox News.

Seeing them together reminded me of Krissy and Grandpa Frank. Right down to the antagonizing. “Bob the Sponge.” “Spongebob, Tadone!” “Bobbie the Spongie.” “Noooo, Tadone, Spongebob.” Said with an Italian accent, “Sponge-a Bob-a.” “Taadoooone!”

I hope their love for each other is just as enduring.


My grandmother died yesterday.

After Dan got home, he said, “I miss her already.”

My feeling is a little different. I’ve been missing my grandmother for years now. I feel like now I can begin to grieve. I wrote about it in this post two years ago:

In contrast, I have been losing Gigi for a number of years now. Her memory started fading probably 10 years ago. Five years ago, it started fleeing. And then about two years ago, she took a fall and fractured her pelvis, and her memory loss was, abruptly, memory lost.

When we visit, she says she remembers who we are, but I have my doubts. These visits are pleasant because my grandmother, despite her complete absence of presence, is cheerful. She isn’t angry, or depressed, or crabby. She just smiles and hmms and nods as we tell her our stories, remark on the weather, or talk about food. She doesn’t seem to be in any pain or discomfort. She is in good health, although my mother reports she is steadily weakening. Unlike Nanny, Gigi isn’t struggling. What would she struggle against?

If I had one wish before Gigi dies, it would be, for one day, to spend it with the grandmother I remember from, say, fifteen or twenty years ago. That woman, my children, and a tape recorder, for 24 hours. I would like Monkey to have something more than the vague woman she has met. Bun may not have any memories of Gigi at all.

Which leaves it up to me, I guess. To remember for all of us.

Olympia was a first generation American. Her parents’ love story is right out of an Italian romance novel — the older man spotting the teenage beauty in the piazza; his travel to America to “make his fortune”; sending for his love and her family. They had children; they lost a daughter in an accident when she was only 6 years old. My grandmother used to tell us how much that hurt her mother. The parents died within a year of each other.

My grandmother grew up in Little Italy in Erie, Pennsylvania. She was a hat check girl at the Italian Club, and later, worked in the Marx Toy factory. My grandfather, Frank, worked there too. I wonder sometimes how he caught my grandmother. She was a classic Italian beauty — small in stature, with dark eyes and hair, a smile that seemed to hold secrets. Not that my grandfather was not a handsome man. I just used to watch them bicker sometimes and wonder.

The story I learned later was that the house in which they lived — the one that wasn’t in Little Italy — was bought by my grandmother after her second son was born. Olympia and Frank had a boy, then a girl (my mother) and then, nine years later, another boy.

With an infant, two school-aged children, herself, her mother-in-law, and her husband all under one roof, my grandma decided it was time to move. Her MIL wasn’t going to budge from Little Italy, and it looked like my grandfather wasn’t going to either. He didn’t think they needed to move and he didn’t look at houses. But my grandmother was a working woman, too, and she had some money put away. So she found the house. My grandma gave my grandpa an ultimatum. She and the kids were moving; he could come with ’em if he wanted. My mom always said that until they moved there, her parents never fought with each other.

It was a great house for grandkids. My grandfather had a garden and there was a huge plum tree in the backyard. They had toys from Marx — a Big Wheel, a two-seated pedaled scooter. The basement and the attic were treasure troves. I remember Sundays of speeding around the driveway with my cousins; exploring upstairs and downstairs (even though we weren’t supposed to be in the attic); of dinners of lasagna and raviolis. I remember my dad eyeing his jelly glass of dago red suspiciously, and the men — my dad, his father-in-law and two brothers-in-law — sitting silently in the living room watching football.

I don’t think my dad ever had more than one glass of that wine each week.

My grandmother was a widow for more than 30 years. Frank died of his second heart attack, in the doctor’s office. She used to joke with my sister and me: “The first time you marry for love; the second for money.” We used to ask her when she was going to find a rich boyfriend.

She never did. She considered herself married…. well, I can’t say until the day she died. I don’t know what was locked inside my grandma’s head in the end.

We had just been in Erie in July, and had celebrated her 92nd birthday on the lawn of her long-term care home. I’m glad, so glad, we had the time with her we had. She may have faded from the lively Italian grandma I knew, but I like to think that somewhere in her heart, she still knew us all and loved us all. That she still remembered. Everything.

Memory Lane: Dee’s Cafe

Since we’re talking about Dee’s Cafe (and we were, weren’t we?), one of the questions/ideas posed to me via email from Kim Z was: memories of Dee’s.

If you don’t know Dee’s, you have never been a hipster living on the South Side (or close by). Dee’s was the place where the goth, pierced, band boys, the tattooed, hair-dyed, theater divas, the underground denizens and alternative news journalists of Pittsburgh gathered. And played pool.

Or so I recall it.

Although most of the blog-o-sphere knows me as a perfectly respectable married-mother-of-two type of girl, I had my wild years. (Dad, you may want to stop reading here.)

I first walked into Dee’s as an under-age undergraduate of Duquesne University. “Back in the day”, the South Side was not nearly as frequented as it is now, and carding was nearly unheard of at Dee’s Cafe. (This would change right around the time I turned 21, conveniently enough.)

I ordered a Greyhound.

Yeah, I was wild and crazy all right.

Once I got the hang of actually going to a bar, I drank Rolling Rock pony bottles (raise your hand if you remember those) and shots of tequila. I hooked up in the back booth. More than once, and with more than one boy (although not in the same night). I learned how to play darts — and wasn’t too shabby either.

My first last call was in Dee’s Cafe.

I remember sitting in the back booth when Dee’s got raided one night. I was there with my roommate Joe (and about 50 other people I knew); I did not have my ID on me. The cop who interrogated my booth was kind enough to let Joe go to our apartment, get my ID, and bring it back.

I lived three blocks away from Dee’s, and had a boyfriend who lived two blocks away from Dee’s. At one point, I lived across the street (House of Babes, baby — a whole ‘nother chapter). We were there a lot. Judy, Bill, and Nikki knew us by name and cigarette brand.

I remember Red Masquer banquets, an after-wedding-reception reception, birthdays, and New Year’s Eves. I remember the night my then-boyfriend almost got into a fight with some stranger who was messing with our pool game. I remember some things I would rather forget, although not very many.

When we were dating, Dan and I used to go to Dee’s when we needed to talk things over. It was safe and familiar to us, some place we knew we could go and not be bothered. Most of the time, though, we just went to hang out. At a certain point we didn’t need to talk things over quite as much.

Based on my experience Saturday night (Sunday morning?) it is still the place for hard-drinking, hard smoking, punk rock kiddos. Jen and I scoped out the back booth, and regaled the young couple sitting there with our stories. He had a full-beard and pompadour, a full sleeve of tattooes, and was about 6’2″; she was a pretty blonde with two facial piercings and glasses. I think we amused them. Bill came over, and Jen and I showed him pictures of our children. I was told that I shouldn’t smoke by a 21-year-old whippersnapper — also with a sleeve of tattooes — with the fabulous name Herb (pronounced with the ‘H’; this point was made repeatedly). (And, yes, I know, I shouldn’t smoke. In Dee’s, your own cigarette is redundant.)

And it’s still the bar I think of when I hear this song:

Got any memories of Dee’s Cafe? Or your own Dee’s Cafe in another town? Tell me stories in the comments!