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Prom Gown Shopping For Men

I don't know any of these kids--it's just a another random photo I pinched off the interwebs.
I don’t know any of these kids–it’s just a another random photo I pinched off the interwebs.

When I realized that the day of shopping for prom gowns my wife had scheduled with my daughters was not a much-anticipated day of mother-daughter bonding, but a drudgery to which my wife was looking forward with all the eagerness of shoeless pilgrim standing before a road of broken glass, I grimaced and stepped into the breech.  Maybe it had something to do with the disgust in her eye when I presumed I wouldn’t be part of the expedition–or maybe I’m just a great husband and dad.  Pfft.

“Of course I’ll go with you,” I said, my soul sighing miserably from the depths of each individual cell.  She brightened considerably not, I suspect, with glee for the chance to spend a few hours in my delightful company, but at the prospect of sharing the pain.

This would be no quick jaunt down the block.  We would be embarking on a 2-hour drive to the dismal, post-industrial remnants of the town of Sharon, PA–a once vibrant steel town ln062997bthat is, well, surviving “despite all that.”  Our particular destination; a store called “The Winner,” a three-story former department store filled with tens of thousands of dresses that bills itself as “The world’s largest off-price fashion store.”  I don’t think they’re exaggerating, at 75,000 square feet of historic charm, the place was a bit overwhelming.

I have to admit that I was dubious about the whole endeavor.  It sounded too good to be true–a treasure trove of deeply discounted formal gowns set a city for which the term “post industrial wasteland” is a compliment?  Have you seen that movie “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome?”  Well, welcome to the Thunderdome.  The last time we’d been through Sharon they had been using stop signs wired to barrels in the center of the downtown as substitutes for broken traffic signals, and while the lights had been fixed this time around, we found that the streets had been only partially cleared of snow after a storm several days before, and had become uneven obstacle courses of packed ice and slush. I expected to see a sign on the outskirts of town that said: Welcome To Sharon. We’re Well Past Trying.

The sidewalks in the business district were no better–some were clear and some were treacherous.  Nevertheless, we reluctantly parked our new car on the streets–would it be there when we returned?–and found our way to the store.  It wasn’t difficult to find–along with the well-kept diner next door, and a dodgy-looking Army Navy store, there’s just not anything else going on in the downtown.  It’s got the feel of a place where folks have just given up.On our last visit there had been a decent used book store, but it was gone, replaced by some sort of off-brand tax preparation storefront.

Special-Occasion-Dresses-The-WinnerInside The Winner, however I began to be convinced.  You walk inside and the first thing you see is a vintage Jaguar E-type that belonged to the owner of the store, in front of which is stationed a genteel matron at a small desk who welcomed us and politely explained the layout of the store.  And what a good thing that was: the place is huge, filled to the gills with thousands upon thousands of gowns.  I followed my kids around for about twenty minutes before I ambled back over to the lady by the Jag and cracked a joke at one of the clerks, “you guys should open a sports bar next door, you’d make a killing.”

The pleasant, distinguished woman leaned in close and said, “haven’t you visited our men’s lounge adjacent to the fitting rooms?”

Why no, I hadn’t.

I glanced at my wife, who nodded indulgently.  I’d already become an anchor despite my good intentions, and both she and my daughters were eager to have me out of their hair.  With some trepidation I found my way down a narrow hall, past a knot of women outside the fitting rooms, and around a corner.  I half-expected to find a door with of those little slide-open peepholes like you see in speakeasies in the movies, but what I found instead was brotherhood.  Well, maybe not brotherhood–but there was a TV set to ESPN, a half dozen la-z-boy recliners, a sofa, and one of those cute “theater style” popcorn cart poppers and…a keg of Rolling Rock on tap.

Genius.  Free beer and popcorn!  I settled in to watch Tennessee versus Auburn, but soon enough a bunch of us–mostly dads but also a fiance, two boyfriends, and a “family friend.”  Given the date and location (western PA, the day before the superbowl) we talked a lot about football, but also a little about shopping,  a bit about women, and–to my surprise and delight–our mutual admiration for regional hero rogers_esquireFred “Mister” Rogers, which was unanimous. 

Of course, it’s not uncommon for even the hardest among us to wax misty-eyed over Mister Rogers–there’s a true Pittsburgh story, in fact, about how Rogers’ car was stolen from outside the WQED studio.  The story was quickly reported on the local news, and the car showed up back in front of the studio in short order, with a note on the dash that said something like “If I’d known this was your car I never would have taken it.”

But I digress. My children are smart, efficient shoppers–they found beautiful dresses in little more than two hours, for a grand total of about $300 (if you’ve shopped for these formal gowns, you know we got off light).  I bid my compadres a reluctant adieu, lingering in the main gallery to listen to the pianist stroking the keys of baby grand piano–talk about atmosphere!–and we were gone, with a brief stop at a local hand-made candy shop.

On the drive home, my wife decided she had a hankering for a Primanti Brothers sandwich, so that was dinner, a satisfying end to a relatively painless day.  Heck, I didn’t even have to drive, with two learner’s permits in the family: one daughter drove north in the morning, one drove south in the evening–all in all a painless day.

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What’s This Blog About?

Conception

As I close in on 200 posts–far and away the longest, most voluminous and sustained blogging I’ve ever managed–I thought it might be interesting to consider what this blog has been about, as compared to what it was intended to be about.

The initial plan was twofold–first, to stick some poetry on the web, much of it based on some very old stuff I wrote in my late teens and early twenties, when I considered “transient poet” to be an enviable career arc (not that I still don’t, but let’s be honest: spaceship captain, guru/cult leader, and international sex symbol are also enviable, in their own ways, though none are particularly practical or, ultimately, as potentially satisfying as being a father to my kids and husband to my wife–sappy?  Sure!  But that’s me.  I cry more than John Boehner*, the big baby.)  So, there was the poetry thing, to which I quickly added the quest of posting something every day, to keep my head in the writing game, and–again, let’s be honest: just to say that I did.  Easy enough, right?

Things That Got In The Way And Changed This Blog

First of all: life.  Life gets in the way.  I quickly discovered that it was impossible to fulfill the daily posting quota without a greater effort than I’m willing to give–specifically, accessing the internet when I’m away from home.  I don’t have efficient mobile devices–no smart phone, and the my first-generation Kindle Fire with it’s eensy weensy keyboard isn’t really conducive to typing–it’s for pecking, if anything.  So, I upped the goal from 250 posts in a year to a full 365–one per day, but not exactly one each day.  Some days there are three, to make up for the days that real life is more important.

milton-in-horton-001

Secondly: “Real” Writing. I hope this isn’t bad form, but I still think of my casual activities on WordPress as a leisurely “messing around,” differentiated from the “real work” of writing for publication and, ideally, profit.  I threw in with NaNoWriMo this year, equipped with notes for an old idea, and blundered my way through about 65,000 words in a month, making me a “winner”–yay.  I’m in the final stages of tuning this ms.–a true pulp action space-opera origin story to a character in another, more ambitious, but presently stalled novel–and it has been a huge, albeit exhilarting, time and energy suck.

The poetry has suffered the most–I’ve written less than a dozen new poems in three months, many of which require considerable, addition refinement; but all my original content has suffered.  I never finished my grand, multi-part Christmas essay (shhh! no one seamed to notice–stick around we’ll wrap things up next November!), and much of my December writing on the blog was dedicated to brisk entries detailing my favorite seasonal music–didn’t finish that, either–I squeaked in with the top 25 but abandoned the entry of honorable mentions and up-and-coming challengers.  Again, something to which we can all look forward. (I can sense your gleeful anticipation from here.)

But, that’s okay.  I’ve got a decent store of things to fill in the gaps–much of it “cheating” in terms of the original intent, but all of it an expression of my tastes, my sense of humor, my thoughts, politics, philosophies.  I’ve been trying to figure out a way to work in sexy pictures of scantily clad women–to sort of even out all the poetry, gardening, cooking (yes, I like to cook), since in real life I get a lot of crap from my family for acting “macho,” whatever the hell that means (doesn’t always shower on a Sunday?  farts?  swears a lot?  maybe I can get my wife to guest-post an explanation of that one!).  I do swear a lot, and I worry that my moderately church-ready vocabulary choices for this blog amount to a false representation of my character.  Oh, and I’m an asshole, too.

Or there’s this

So, what’s the blog about now?  At the risk of seeming narcissistic, this blog is about me–hopefully, more like hanging  out with me in a bar, or on a porch overlooking a lake, in summer, than it is like me just going on and on about how completely awesome I am.  By post 365, we should all have a better idea of who I am.  I, for one, am looking forward to find out.  The great risk here is that I’m just not that fucking interesting (see, more swearing–will my hit count go way up for this post?), or entertaining?  We’ll see.

*I never miss an opportunity to point out that auto-correct desperately wants me to change “Boehner” to “Boner.”  I’m interpreting this not as mere chance, or the vengeance of some giddy liberal data-entry tech, but a seminal indicator of burgeoning computer sentience. Seriously–think about it.