In Which Mary Takes a Trip

I try to make a habit of trusting the people I love. So when Rawle said, “Let’s go to Cincinnati for New Year’s,” I said, “Great, where do I sign.”

So to Cincy, we went! Confetti in tow.

Plus, I should say, some wariness on my part. In all of my years, my few glimpses into the Midwest have mostly come from the “Get Me a Whopper” commercial and evangelical Christian videos where they play with snakes. And Hoosiers of course.

But it seems my sources were wrong! Cincinnati is long on charm and short on Bible-thumpers.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

This is a story about a guy:

Poncho

Poncho

And a girl:

Pish with her turkey dinner

Pish with her turkey dinner

…who went to Cincinnati to visit some friends of the guy’s. He used to live there when he managed a band called Homunculus, whose live shows I’m told were off the hizzy.

First thing about Cincinnati: Spend-thriftiness-wise, it’s almost impossible to fly there from Philly, so we flew to Columbus Airport and rented a car. Not just any car!

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Yeaaaah, booooy!

As we were driving from the Columbus Airport to Cincinnati, Rawle woke me up (I’m a selfish passenger) and pointed out a sign on the side of the road. “Welcome to the Midwest,” he said.

"If you died today, how would you spend eternity?"

"If you died today where would you spend eternity?"

Good question! Followed in short order by this guy:

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So, some invisible Bible-thumpers exist. And they always will!

Another thing about Cincy: You can buy booze in the grocery store.

Booze in the grocery store

Booze in the grocery store

The grocer (called Kroger’s which, aside from the East Coast, monopolizes all of America) also specializes in cologne bearing the name of middle-American celebrities:

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Tim McGraw and Tom Brady in smell-form

So we got to our temporary residence, the house owned by Rawle’s friends Ben and Sarah, who were away for the holidays. No sooner had we arrived and each downed a Chipotle burrito than Rawle said, “Oh shit. I gotta…uh…”

And with that, he bolted to the bathroom. And then to bed, and then to the bathroom, and then to bed. Where he stayed for the next two days.

Over that period, I watched the following: Seinfeld (2x), The Office (2x), Jeopardy (2x), The Da Vinci Code, The Cosby Show (4x), Sex and the City (2x), The Making of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (2x) and 15 and Pregnant (1/2x). I also got drunk by myself and generally kicked it.

Finally, Rawle rid himself of his bug. I was so happy, I played him a song!

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I hope you’re still following along. Cause this is when it gets great!

We packed it up and said, Shit, time for a beer. We sought said beer at a little joint called Habits Café:

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We got a couple Bell’s on draft, much to Rawle’s delight. Here’s Mr. Blue Eyes himself:

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Then we took a minute to get a photo opp with Kentucky in the background (there it is to the left of my dome!):

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Sick

And drive by Rawle’s old house:

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All of this throwing up and day-tripping left us with about 6 hours until 2009. So we drove to the Schoen residence, quickly got dolled up and a little shit-canned, and 3-2-1, Happy New Year!

"Here we go again," says Rawle.

"Here we go again," says Rawle.

"Gimme somebody to kiss!" says Mary.

"Somebody gimme a kiss!" says Mary.

As is tradition, we felt like the dickens the next day. Luckily, 3 things immediately made us feel better:

Pop'ems

Pop'ems for Marky

Phoenix the Dog

Phoenix the Dog

Eddieeeee!

Eddieeeee!

No amount of nausea was keeping Rawle and me from everyone’s favorite resolution: lose the gut. So off we went on a nice, light run.

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That’s before. This is after:

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Another notable thing about Cincinnati: There’s a ton of ethnic food, reportedly because of the nearby Proctor & Gamble international headquarters.

But I don’t need to know why! Just get me to an Indian buffet!

Bliss-ful and and food-full at Baba

Bliss-ful and and food-full at Baba

I tell you what — I’m glad we went to Baba and not the s***-house next door:

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Next up: To Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood, popular amongst homosexuals, washed-up hipsters and… me! I love the Northside!

Mostly because of this place:

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Shake It Records

I love Shake It Records! They’ve got no shortage of great albums (Springsteen, whu whu!) and McSweeney’s anthologies (yes! books!) plus just the sort of architectural/editorial enthusiasm to make you want to buy everything you see.

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Every time Rawle came down my aisle, I ran away because I didn’t want to leave (I love stores in which I resort to my 4 year-old self). Finally I agreed to purchase some stuff and leave the rest for a wish list (I almost bought an album by a French actress, but finding that too impulsive, instead bought a book called Animals of the Ocean, In Particular the Giant Squid).

Here’s a nice parting shot of the Northside:

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Later on, we went to see Slumdog Millionaire at the Esquire Theater. Great theater, even better movie. Even if Adam hated the Bollywood ending.

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We then met up with Ben (from the first house!) at a little coffee shop called Sitwell’s. If I’d gone to college in Cincinnati, I’d’ve been here all the time.

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Much like the grocery store, Sitwell’s has a liquor license. So I got some boozed-up coffee concoction that made me seriously freak out. Nevertheless, a wonderful place.

The next day, let’s see. If memory serves, we went running again, kicked it, ate a steak dinner (during which the Homunculus boys were celebrity-spotted by the waiter), got ice cream at UDF (featuring a real, live Adam Schoen Freak-Out when they ran out of Peanut Butter Chip), and my very first comedy club experience ever, at the ill-titled Go Bananas.

And suddenly, it was Rawle and Mary’s Last Day in Cincinnati. We commemorated the occasion by getting tofu pad thai from Rawle’s Favorite Restaurant Ever, Thai Express.

Rawle enjoys his Thai Express

Rawle enjoys his Thai Express

We blissfully devoured the pad thai in Ault Park, a Gatsby-esque public space overlooking the Ohio River.

Ault Park

Ault Park

Here I am at Ault Park (if you can find me!):

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By then, it was time to head on back to Columbus for our flight home. But wait! Look at this ridiculous mushroom house!

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Okay, then it was time to go home. (But not before I realized I’d lost an earring while going through security and, while a brattily tearful Mary stood there in her Uggs, Rawle spotted the rogue earring by the ticketing desk from 50 yards away. Ferris Bueller, you’re my hero!)

Poncho takes over the airport

Poncho takes over the airport

Well, that’s the tale of Rawle and Mary in Cincinnati. We shared some laughs, endured some vomiting and bought some useless stuff. The way I see it, Cincinnati is a lot like Philly — random, full of food and largely misunderstood. Difference is: In Cincy, you can booze pretty much everywhere. Good on ’em.

Next up: Our nation’s capital! We’ll be taking on Señor Obama’s new digs for Valentine’s Day Weekend. Stay tuned.

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Marley and Amos and Me

Well, I did it: I saw Marley and Me.

Amos

Amos

This was no easy task for me. My own dog, Amos, a 90-pound golden retriever who would fall into the “helluva dog” category, died in the summer of 2007. He was undoubtedly my truest friend.

So when I sat down to watch this movie, I knew full well that I’d be a blubbery mess. Especially since both my mother and father had reported to me: “Don’t see it. I cried like a baby.”

Good lord, they weren’t kidding: I started crying when the movie studio intro started playing. By the end, I was sobbing uncontrollably in a monstrous display of saline, while my snot and mascara raced to the bottom of my chin.

So the question is, was it worth it? Did it help me get over the loss of my pup?

Well, no. Seeing up-close shots of puppy-killer being injected into poor Marley didn’t cathartically heal the wounds of holding Amos’ face against mine while the vet put him down in our kitchen. That part, I couldn’t even watch.

But I guess there’s some silver lining: I found some writerly inspiration in John Grogan, the Philadelphia Inquirer columnist who wound up writing a book about this scoundrel of a canine.

So now, my thoughts turn to Amos.

Me torturing Sarge

Me torturing Sarge

I was 10 when we got him. My childhood dog, Sarge, had just passed away, and since my brother and sister were both in college, that just left me, Mom and Dad at home. So one day, my siblings brought home a surprise. It was my dad’s birthday.

“It better not be a dog,” he barked from his birthday throne.

But a dog it was. A pudgy dog who sat on our kitchen floor thinking “who the hell are these people, and where’s the kibble.”

I didn’t know what to think about this mutt at first (though I did burst into tears at the sight of him — I’m emotional! So what!). He bit me a lot. And he peed all over.

But I grew to love him (even though I dropped him down the stairs the first day he proved to be too heavy for a 10 year-old to carry) and pretty soon, I took him wherever I went. We went on in this fashion — him riding shotty, me pouring cereal on the floor for him, etc. — for nearly 14 years.

Some important facts about Amos:

1) He could tell time. My mom swears that once, when I was in high school, she said to Amos, “Time to wake up Mary!” and — as legend has it — he looked up at the clock.

2) Amos got the paper every morning. He went down the hill, picked up The News Journal and paraded around the house with it until we gave him a treat.

Home from college, illin with the pup

Home from college, illin with the pup

3) He was a drama queen, especially in his later years. My mom would tell me about his theatrics at the kennel: They’d show up, Amos would lay down in the waiting room and roll over on his back, the front desk kid would announce on the loudspeaker, “Amos is here; a cart for Amos up front.” Two people would then wheel a large cart up to the front, bend down, pick up my dog and mount him on the cart. As they wheeled him away, he’d flip over and grin at us, like “F*ck yeah I get a cart!” The first time I saw it for myself, I peed my pants.

4) Amos was a sweet boy. He could always tell when someone needed a friend, putting his head in your lap and licking away any tears. When my parents and I would occasionally fight (as teenagers and their parents sometimes do), he would pace around the house and jump in our laps, seeming to say “Stop that! No fighting!” That would usually calm things down — anything to not hurt our boy.

Around 2005, my sister got Marley and Me for Christmas. Amos was 12 at the time, fully white-faced and noticeably slower than when he was a pup. Fearing the worst, I skipped ahead to the end of the book. I started sobbing — on Christmas! — and swore I’d never read it.

And then it was the summer of 2007. On August 22, I interviewed for an editing job in Center City. I nailed it. That evening, my parents called. They asked me how the interview went and I gave them the play-by-play. My dad said, “Great job Mar, we’re proud of you.” But then, in a classic case of When-God-opens-a-window-he-closes-a-door, he said, “Mary, your mom’s going to get on the other line.”

I immediately knew.

“You need to come home tonight. Your dog–”

That’s all I needed to hear. The other details — that he’d lost his vision, had fallen down the stairs and injured his spine, which had now caused his hind legs to be paralyzed — were too horrible to bear.

Acrobatics

Acrobatics

I went home and spent the night in the kitchen, stroking his ears and telling him I loved him, that he was the best dog I’d ever known, thanking him for being so sweet to my parents and my friends.

The next morning, when he still couldn’t walk, we called the vet. He and his assistant would be there shortly.

I laid on the floor with Amos and waited. He gave us all his doggy smile — he still had his youthful energy, but I think he knew it was his time.

The vets arrived and told us what to do. My job was to hug him, turn his face away from where they’d inject him. “Just sleep now,” I said. “Sleep now.”

They made the injection. I felt the life drain out of him. Looked in his eyes and he was gone.

My mom, dad and I all just cried and cried. I can still picture my father weeping openly, something I hadn’t seen before or since. “Well,” said the vet. “He was one in a million.”

Amos loved car rides.

Amos loved car rides.

I still don’t know how I had the strength to hold my dog while he died. Guess I just had to be there for him, like he’d been there for me in the midst of all those breakups and college rejection letters.

It was my task to write to the family. I did so that afternoon, sending out a four-sentence email to our extended family. I got 40 lengthy responses, all from people who’d been touched by this wet-nosed ruffian who came to us in 1993.

“It better not be a dog,” my dad had said then. And what a dog he was.

So that’s my Marley story.

I don’t think seeing Marley and Me helped me get over my dog dying, no. But here I am, writing this little tribute that, while probably sad, sappy and overly long to you, was a long time coming on Pish de Luxe’s part.

Amos, I hope you’re up there picking up God’s newspaper. He better be giving you treats.

The best dog in the world.

The best dog in the world. Miss you buddy.