Sunday, July 19, 2015

3 Reasons That My Childhood Basement Is Haunted (Or That Toy Story Is Real)

My eighteen-year-old sister has an averagely nice boyfriend, who takes her on averagely nice dates and buys her averagely nice gifts for her birthday and just-because. My family decidedly likes him, and I have therefore recently made more of an effort to hang out with them both. We chat, and they tell stories of their technological woes, instagram drama, snapchat stories, etc, while I continously sound like I am 80 with remarks like "Just think, when I was just a little younger than you I had to go to the public library to print off my school work!" or "I used to have a flip phone with limited texting, and it only texted in capital letters so I looked like I was angry all the time!"

Why do I say these things? It makes my sister and averagely nice boyfriend feel slightly uncomfortable (because they don't know why I am saying them either), and somehow makes me feel ~more than~ slightly wise, or like I have a chiseled character because I didn't have a printer in my house or internet until middle school. Perhaps this is why the generations before me have said similar things to people my age, about party-line phones or playing jacks down by the soda fountain--to feel better about themselves that things used to be a little more inconvenient. (Knowing that I had to beg my parents to take me to the library and then pay ten cents to print off a book-report made me the person that I am today, probably). However, the type of satisfaction that we really get is saying in an underlying way, "You don't know how easy you have it, you little shits." 
And I know, I know, I really had it easy too. But it's still fun.

These conversations eventually lead to me talking about the dinosaur of AIM instant messaging, and how I would spend hours in the basement talking to up to seven different friends. My heart would leap when the creaking, opening door sound was made, and I saw that my crush was now online. I would spend hours trying to make my profile super cool with ambiguous and angsty alternative rock lyrics, or a sprinkle of inside jokes to make anyone else reading it think "She is so interesting and random, wow!" And then the away message--that was another ball game entirely.

Honestly, I still think that instant messenger should exist as a primary form of communication. It was awesome.

With the instant messenger, I inevitably also start talking about our creepy basement, mostly at my sister's request. Our childhood computer was located downstairs in the "play room". Outside of the playroom was a saloon style restroom (thanks to my mother and her interior design creativity) that goes against a full stocked bar. The bar proceeds a foosball table and pinball machine, which leads to a Speed Racer slot machine, big screen T.V. (with surround sound, ~ooooh~), and a "music room" that has a keyboard, drum set, and boxes of records and cassette tapes mixed with a plethora of holiday decorations and an old work-out stationary bike. So basically, our basement is in fact not creepy at all. It was finished with a blue-grey carpet, there are leather couches and a red velvet love-seat, and enough Ohio-State novelty items to make Woody Hayes blush.

However, a basement is a basement, no matter how nice, and when seventh grade me sat downstairs feverishly typing in chat rooms and listening to Panic! At The Disco, it could be terrifying. To conserve electricity, I would often only have the playroom light on, and leave the door to that room open so that our internet could stay connected to my father's work computer upstairs. I'd make an effort to stare straight ahead at the screen, and not turn to the right to look out into the black abyss, or think about a scaly hand reaching from the wall beside my head and grabbing my face (like I saw in a horrible movie that I rented from Blockbuster years prior, RIP Blockbuster).

So here I would be, at ages 13 and 14 (the reign of the AOL instant messenger), scared out of my wits while "typin lyk dis" to all of my friends--which is honestly scarier than anything that I am about to tell you. But, my little sister delights in hearing the following tales, dealing with children's toys, that indeed confirm that my childhood basement is haunted (or that Toy Story is real).

Reason One: Mommy, please!
To the left of the computer desk was a large, Fisher-Price toy chest that contained beanie babies, McDonald's happy meal plush toys, and multiple baby dolls. While taking a break from the screen, I decided to open up the chest one evening, while in the basement alone, and view toys that I had not played with in years. On top, was who used to be my favorite doll, Sally. Sally once wore cute patterned overalls and had pigtails in ringlet curls, but now was naked, only wearing the weird white leotard looking things that naked dolls often do, and had matted hair that had apparently fallen out in parts. I noticed also, to my dismay, that part of her mouth and nose had been chewed off by a mouse. Essentially, she looked horrifying, which stirred my pity and nostalgia even more. "Oh, Sally," I whispered, "What happened to you?"
Another fun thing about Sally is that if you squeezed her abdomen hard enough, she would say in an adorable voice: "Mommy, please! Let's play house!" with a surprising amount of colorful intonation. I smiled at remembering this, feeling like there was a spotlight on me and my childhood friend, as I gave her rough-body a squeeze.
"Mommy please," she began, with half a face and less than a full head of hair, "LETS PLAY HOUSE" her voice contorted, in a rumbling, statically, deep way that made me throw her and run upstairs screaming. I realized later that her motor simply had gone bad, and she sounded so from a lack of use, but I am also not ruling out the possibility that it was a demon speaking to me from my doll. You know, just maybe.

Reason Two: Go Buckeyes!
I previously mentioned the bar and Ohio-State decor, and included in that was a little Brutus The Buckeye that cutely yelled "Go Buckeyes!" or played the OSU fight song when thrown on the ground. He sat at the bar, next to a series of bobbleheads, and was exclusively used during games. During a dark night of messaging and working on my Myspace top friends list, I was interrupted by an abrupt "Go Buckeyes!"
My heart felt like it had been electrocuted, and my fingers began to sweat against the keys. I figured it was a fluke, or that I imagined Brutus cheering after hearing him so many times before. About a minute later, I could hear, loud and proud, the OSU fight song piercing the dark air of the basement. I slowly got up, switched on the lights leading to the bar, and walked over to see if my sister was playing a trick on me. But there was Brutus, smiling, looking straight into my soul with his embroidered eyes. Again, I ran upstairs screaming.
Like the doll, it is certainly possible that his motor was glitching and went off without being pounded on the ground. OR, Brutus was evil and should be burned in the fire place. I haven't touched him since.

Reason Three: Yuuuum!
Behind the computer desk is a wall divider that has a built-in puppet window (for shows and the like). On top of the divider sits simple art projects, and two old Furbies. Both Furtbies had the batteries removed, because we once ago decided that there was no other way to keep them quiet. They had laid dormant for years, staring at the back of my head as I typed away.
Until one evening, when I head a mechanical creak, like a tiny machine was moving. I turned in my chair slowly to notice that one of the Furby's ears were moving up and down. I thought I imagined it, but they kept going, until the Furby let out a ferocious "Yuuuuummm!!!" LIKE IT WANTED TO BE FED.
And, like the times before, I ran upstairs screaming. I later checked, and there were still no batteries inside the toy. I have no explanation for this one.


Now, I can finally go into our basement without feeling as scared (10 years later), but still avoid looking at the Furbies, or opening my toy chest. In fact, I usually stay away from the play room all together, and my sister tends to do the same after my stories.

And everything that I have said is true. I can play the moments in my head over and over, sometimes laughing and other times getting seriously freaked out.

And well, that's my story.
Believe it, or not.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Geography Lesson One: Ohio and Pennsylvania Are Neighboring States

The Thursday before Independence Day weekend, my boyfriend and myself drove the seven and a half hours to Philadelphia to visit a close friend. I had been to Pennsylvania a handful of times in the past, and even to Pittsburgh (which I consider a larger city), but had never been to Philadelphia. Our friend, Orey, had lived in the city for a little over a year, working as a supervisor for a tourism company and taking graduate classes, working toward his Masters in Creative Writing.

We were thrilled to visit Philadelphia, one of the most populated cities in the United States, and also nervous about how we would fit in. Orey had previously warned us that Philadelphia natives can easily identify people that are tourists, especially midwesterners. He had been outed as an Ohioan on a few occasions, once after saying "Bless you" to a complete stranger after they sneezed, and other times for starting a friendly conversation in public. In Philadelphia, small-talk does not exist, and sneezing is apparently a private matter.
"Where are you from?" they would ask him.
"I live in West Philly." he'd reply.
"Yeah, but you're not from here." they'd insist.

The week before we left, Orey requested that we each send him a wish-list of things we wanted to do. The first two things on my list were "TACO BELL" and "LIBERTY BELL". (In college, the three of us frequented Taco Bell more times then I care to admit, and I am a sucker for any historical landmarks). Orey excitedly showed his co-workers our wish lists, which warranted a response of skepticism and judgment. "Do all people in Ohio like Taco Bell?" one asked. "They really like to eat, just like you" said another. Orey later reported to me that many of his coworkers had never experienced Taco Bell in their lives. What do they eat? Are they rich or something? were the first two questions that I blurted, to which he responded "I just don't know. People are different here. A lot of them that I met don't even realize that Ohio is right next to Pennsylvania." (I later spoke with a little girl while getting a Philly cheese steak who didn't know what Ohio was, and thought it was a suburb of Philadelphia)

Not that I use fast-food as a major component my identity, but I was certainly taken aback. When we first got to the city, we drove to pick Orey up at his place of work.
"Here we go..." I said to my boyfriend teasingly. "You are just a country boy and I am a dough-eyed midwestern girl, taking on the big city."
"Uh, I am not a country boy." he replied, scanning his eyes across the narrow roads.
"Living in Columbus for four years doesn't count, you are still from the middle of nowhere" I replied smuggly, attempting to see the tops of the skyscrapers that ran past the car windows.

Early on in our trip, we met Orey's co-workers and friends. He introduced us as his "Ohio friends", but I decided to ham it up anyway. I was overly friendly, super smiley, and tried to sneak in as many "bless you"s and "excuse me"s as I could. Outside of meeting his coworkers, when I waited in lines at the bathroom, I attempted to start conversations with the women standing next to me. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. At other times, I walked aggressively past others on the city streets, grazing shoulders or bumping handbags without an apology. I didn't smile or nod to children or the elderly that shuffled on by, attempting to blend in.

When I previously traveled to France and Ireland, I desperately tried to appear European. I wore darker colors, didn't carry a map, and turned my insides while trying to keep my face calm and neutral while walking through an exciting, beautiful new place. I didn't want to stick out. However, in Philly, I found that it was easier to be cheerful than to blend in. Of course, I should clarify that Philadelphians are not rude, horrible, or unfriendly. I met wonderful people who were helpful and enjoyable to be around, but the difference in culture between the midwest and the east coast is notable. Nevertheless, in Philly, in America, I no longer wished to mesh with what was around me. I wanted everyone to know that I was from Columbus, Ohio, where we sell cow novelty items and John Deere hats in our airports. Let Orey's coworkers know that I love imitation Mexican Food, and that I have never seen the Liberty Bell in my life but dreamed of the moment when I would lay my eyes upon its cracked glory.

So, I wore a hot air balloon patterned dress and ran to the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Steps..AKA, THE ROCKY STAIRS!
I repeatedly asked "What is the difference between a Water Ice and Italian Ice? I don't get it?"
I cried during a 3D informational film at Orey's work that was narrated by a Benjamin Franklin impersonator.
And then again at Al Calpone's cell at Eastern State Penitentiary.
And when I saw Independence Hall.
And finally when we found a cute baby bird on a porch in Society Hill.

By the end of the weekend, I loved it. The history, the architecture, but mostly experiencing how another sect of America lives and functions in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. Plus, it was way cool to experience the Fourth of July in the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed. I also got to wait for an Uber by the real Benjamin Franklin's grave.

We had an awesome time.

Bless you, Philadelphia,