Epic Holiday Post 2015-16

HFTH 2015
Night 2, at barricade. That’s me and Deb, the two ladies up front, to the far left. Greg seems to be looking right at her. Copyright Mike McLaughlin 2015.

 

 

Wow, I had quite the holiday vacation week.  But first, this public service announcement…

Anyone reading this probably knows that I have finally quit sending holiday cards. Some years they went out on time; other years they didn’t arrive until early January. At one point I think I was sending out almost eighty cards yearly.  I usually received about half that amount back.  I always reserved the right to discontinue sending cards to individuals who never reciprocated; but I’d continue to send them to elderly relatives (most now deceased, alas) or anyone else who I wanted to keep in touch with, no matter the situation.  Over the years, as life with two jobs and two kids got busier, it was a struggle keeping up with address changes, life changes, printing the labels, getting kids to pose for pictures when they hated how they looked, et cetera, ad nauseam.  Then I bought cards in late 2014 with intent to send them…then just never did.  (I still swear I bought stamps, but never located them.)  That’s what happens after almost thirty years, I guess.  This year, I didn’t even send cards to my parents, my aunts, or my only sister.  I sent (or brought) gifts instead.  It’s not that I don’t love everyone, or don’t think of them all the time: I’m just so damn tired, and I always run out of time.

By the way: if you’re someone who sends me cards every year, especially if you have kids, keep sending them if you like.  I love seeing pictures of your clan, and you never know; I may someday not be as busy.  It could happen.

Which brings me to Christmas 2015.  This year I decided to stress myself out even more than usual by holding the Christmas Eve dinner at our little tiny house.  The only space in our home that could hold 20 family members all at once is our finished basement, which was (to use the technical term) a wreck.  This involved an awful lot of me and my husband talking about cleaning, and what to put away and where, or what to give away, and so forth, but very little actual cleaning (by me, anyway; my husband is a beast when it comes to getting things scrubbed up and shiny, surely a holdover from his 20+ years in the military).

The biggest bone of contention was an ersatz office space taking up the middle of our proposed dining space, the actual “office” having been taking over by many boxes of papers and magazines over the years.  It consisted of a couple of trunk-size bins and a peeling,  ancient card table that came with the house, all surfaces covered with papers and gadgets.  I just wanted it all gone, and it didn’t seem to be budging. It was kind of like when my folks would be planning a party in their basement, and my Dad would have the former kitchen table piled high with God only knows what–bills, stuff to be filed, invoices–and Mom would ask him endlessly to clean it up, getting herself (and everyone but Dad) riled up about it.  Then, the day of the party, he would disappear into the basement, and voilá! within an hour or two, every slip of paper on that table would be gone, and the table itself would then be ready for whatever entertainment we’d planned.

I tried to talk myself into not stressing, but as usual it was fruitless.

Finally everything was ready.  We’d gotten the basement space cleared out and cleaned, the living room decorated.  One brother-in-law brought pre-meal goodies; another brother-in-law supplied a beautiful salad.  My husband’s Aunt made her red-and-green pineapple Jello salad (without which our Midwestern Christmas dinner would be incomplete), and my mother-in-law brought peas and corn at my request.  I underestimated the cooking time, and our tenderloin roast was still mooing when I cut it.  My niece Jenna, who works at a local restaurant, performed some magic with cornstarch and saved me from having little or no sauce.  I zapped the meat in the microwave; we ate; and all was well.  We even had some leftovers.  Dessert was several kinds of cookies and candies (especially the brandy-filled type).  My husband produced some after-dinner liqueurs from I know not where exactly, and we enjoyed ourselves.

And so to bed, after much cleanup help from everyone on both levels of the house.  Thank you, thank you, goodnight, Merry Christmas!

The next day, after a good breakfast and much present-opening (thank you, one and all!), my older daughter Teresa and I hightailed it down to Milwaukee to (a) drop off her multitude of gifts and (b) drive like hell to the airport, where we caught a 3 pm flight to Newark, NJ by way of Chicago.  (O’Hare is just as terrifyingly large as I remember, maybe even more so.)  To say we were beat is an understatement.  We got our rental car–so much more advanced than the junker I drive–and pulled out in a misty rain, with the driver (me) not even knowing where the wipers were located.  With a few mishaps (hey, it’s been a long damn time, and I was driving at night on the GS Parkway, in the rain!), we made it to my cousin Cheryl’s house.  We were almost instantly fed, warmed, and got to bed as quickly as possible.

After a terrific breakfast on Saturday and some catching up, my Aunt Mar and Uncle Dave arrived.  Pizza, and some of my cousin’s son’s friends, soon materialized because, hey, this was Jersey!  You gotta eat pizza!  (It’s in the rule book, I swear.)  After an exchange of plans and texts, we met up at the hotel with our friend Deb (and her friend Yeyé from Colombia), and thus began the true reason for The Trip: Home For The Holidays 9.  This is an annual charity event (or it has been), with loads of music, staged by New Jersey’s own Bouncing Souls.  The band founded it in 2006, while Asbury Park, NJ was still getting back on its feet after a long period of neglect.  You know the Springsteen song, “My City in Ruins”?  It was released on the post-9/11 album The Rising, and most people thought its subject was New York City.  Uh-uh; Bruce was mourning Asbury and its former glory days. 

The first night has always taken place on December 26–a challenging time period–but our friend Deb (a Long Island, NY resident) has been coming to it every year since ’07.  Since she loves the Souls, and since we think she’s awesome, my older daughter and I have wanted to attend H4TH with her, well, forever.  And let’s face it, playing shows in the Midwest isn’t always a given for a Jersey-based band.  (The last time my daughter and I can remember the Souls playing Milwaukee was the weekend that she and I happened to be in Jersey for my Nana’s funeral, in 2010.  We may be wrong, of course.)

Night #1: After a dinner with our friends at Langosta Lounge, we trekked back to the hotel and lined up at the Stone Pony–long a favorite club of mine back in the 80s–for our 3-day passes to the shows.  I gotta tell you, it was mighty weird to be back at the Pony, if for no other reason than that it’d been about 25 years since I’d set foot there.  For one thing, the beer bar, which stood in the middle of the place, is just gone.  The DJ booth (miss you, Lee!) is no longer a sanctuary for a guy spinning great records in-between sets; it’s just sort of open.  There was a lot more black clothing than I seem to remember back when I was in my 20s, loads more tattoos of course, and impressive biker/hipster beards.  Which seems to be appropriate, because back in the day, we went to great lengths to avoid the patrons of Mrs Jay’s, the biker bar which stood in the space now occupied by the Pony’s Summer Stage.

The stage area itself hasn’t changed much, so far as I could tell, but due to the nature of the performances (punk rock af), there were barricades and lots of mountainous security folks.  I’m pretty sure the bands themselves weren’t in danger.   No, the security folks were there to prevent the mayhem I could see due to an interesting change I discovered on the first night: the Pony now has an audience cam.  I don’t know what the advantage is of seeing what’s behind you from that particular spot (stage left), but it sure was entertaining to be see some of the insane shit people got up to back there.

Lead singer of The World Inferno: “Circle pit!”

(Mayhem erupts onscreen)

Obviously, it wasn’t like that the whole first night, but you get the picture.  My friend Deb was literally vibrating with excitement, since this was her first Souls show in quite a while.  Since I don’t have the long-standing connection with them that she does, I was excited too, but not quite so much.  Still, it was great to be with someone so obviously in love with the band.  I should say that with my limited exposure to their music, I had no idea what the Souls would be like live.  I shouldn’t have been worried; they were awesome.  Their bass player, Brian Kienlan, is a freaking beast.  Their guitarist, Pete Steinkopf, is amazing.  George, their latest drummer (only the third in about 30 years), is terrific too.  And Greg Attonito, the lead singer, moves slowly but sings fast.  And people love it.  Why wouldn’t they? 

We stood stage left all night, not far from the front door, along the side barricade.  This meant we were safe from, say, the girl who wound up getting hoisted in the air during The World Inferno’s set, or a kick in the head from a crowd-surfer during the Souls’ show.  But it also meant we weren’t directly in the action.  We went to the after-party at a tiny local “surf bar”, which was about the size of the front part of my house. The stage was in one far corner, and people were still trying to crowd-surf in that space.  (The bands playing there were maybe five feet away from us.)

On the second night, the show situation was to be different:  Deb had decided that we needed to be on barricade for the Sunday show.  My daughter and I agreed.  (Note: I have never been on the barricade for any show, ever in my life.)  But first, we had to get through Sunday.  Deb’s friend Eve (Eva? I may have her name wrong) met us at a breakfast place in downtown Asbury called (what else?) Toast.  The food was great, and after the meal, Deb and Teresa went to the Punk Rock Flea Market being held at Convention Hall.  I drove to Freehold to hook up with my BFF, Colleen.  She and her husband have twin boys who are 9–or 10 (I will get that right someday, I swear), and when I got there, the kids were still in their PJ’s.  They didn’t know me, and so didn’t want to kiss or hug.  In fact, they only came near when I presented them with gift certificates from Silverball Pinball Museum and Arcade.  Coll and I had a blast–acting silly, listening to Funk Radio on Pandora,  and cooking dinner.  Aside from the gloomy weather (rain and mist), it was a very pleasant afternoon, and dinner was great.  While I was catching up with my bestie, Teresa and Deb were having fun too, buying stickers and vinyl LPs, and actually walking onto the beach in the unseasonably warm (but still gloomy) winter weather.

Night #2: We assembled at the Pony for the show, a little late due to a beer run.  Led by Deb, we inched to the front right side, coming to rest finally between two other ladies who had foolishly left some space in-between their spots at the barricade.  Deb gave me a few ground rules: “Keep your feet apart and your arms over the wall; push back if someone pushes you; and if anyone tries to crowd-surf near us, put your hands over your head to keep their feet up.”  Okay!  Then it was time for the Souls again.  I’d thought that the security folks would prevent us from getting a decent view of the band.  Fortunately, I was wrong.  Teresa was right behind us, getting more crushed than we were.  We couldn’t see what might be happening in the mosh pit, but we didn’t have to; the faces of the security staff alerted us to any incoming body/foot missiles.  And the music was great, as before.  Greg announced they would play their “Better trilogy”: the Souls songs “Better Life” and “Better Days”, as well as their version of the Kinks’s “Better Things.”  (I love that song, by the way.)  He also waded up to the barricade to high-five and shake hands with the faithful during “Sing Along Forever,” and a day later, Deb and I found ourselves immortalized on a local photographer’s website whilst gazing up at Greg.

Teresa and Deb headed to the after-party to check out the bands.  I opted for a early night (sort of), because I’d walked back to the room in Deb’s thin hoodie (perfect for earlier in the day, not such a good decision for the late-night drizzle) and felt like I might be coming down with something.  (Sadly, I was correct.)

The next morning was Monday, and Deb had to cut out early to get to work in NYC.  Teresa and I ate some of the goodies Colleen had provided (we kept sleeping through the hotel breakfast time), and then followed Cheryl to Brick from Neptune to see a bunch of our relatives.  My Aunt Mar was hosting, so she had sandwiches and chips, plus pretty much anything else we wanted.  My Aunt Andrea, cousin Michelle and her daughter Nicole were all there, and we had a great time having lunch and catching up.  I could hear myself talking and, as someone once said, “That Jersey accent just comes roaring back!”  (I think my kid was trying not to laugh at me, but I can’t be sure.)  We texted back and forth with Deb, and chose MoGo Korean Tacos as our dinner spot for the final night we’d all be together. 

Night #3: We missed the first two opening bands due to the dinner stop, but got to the Pony in time for The Loved Ones and their amazing set.  We had a drink at the back bar, and Deb, Teresa and I wound up at stage right, just behind the friends and family area next to the stage.  (Big ups to the lovely blonde lady who let me stand in front of her after my bathroom run made me have to shoulder my way back to my girls.)  Yeyé found herself on the opposite side of the stage, but hung with us briefly again–when she crowd-surfed twice and wound up near us both times.  (“Yeyé’s a beast,” my daughter said, admiringly.)   The show was insane: Greg had stated earlier that the band’s friend Jim, “someone who’s been with us for decades,” was the author of the final night’s set list.  As far as I’m concerned, the choice of songs was even more high-energy that the previous two nights.  I guess everyone else thought so, too, because it seemed like security was pulling out several crowd-surfers per song that night.  In fact, towards the end, the Souls’ drummer, George, threw himself into the crowd, surfing out and back again.  The audience also got a chance to react to the sad news that Mötorhead’s Lemmy Kilmeister had died: Greg requested “not a moment of silence, but a moment of noise” for Lemmy, and he got it.  I’m still not entirely sure the dear departed didn’t actually hear us.

Fangirl alert: Deb already knew that Frank Iero (former MCR guitarist and current frontman of frnkiero and the cellabration) would be showing up, as he’d attended another event in Asbury earlier that day.  (Frank had played the final night of HFTH in 2014.)  About halfway into the show, Greg announced that they’d have some friends helping them out.  Dave Hause from The Loves Ones got up on stage–as did Frank, who’d been standing right in front of us (and I never noticed).   I’ll admit that I got a little distracted after I realized Frank Iero was within spitting distance, but I’m a creepy stalker fangirl; it did nothing to diminish the show itself.  Hey, I behaved myself.  (Boundaries, folks, and respect.  That’s it.)  What a night. 

At the end of it all, this may have been the last Home For The Holidays festival.  The rebuild of Asbury Park has morphed into dreaded gentrification, which isn’t something everyone is fond of.  Teresa and I didn’t bother with the after-party that night; we were trying to get as much sleep as possible.  Deb is a road warrior (for lack of a better term): she stayed out as late as possible before crashing for just a few hours and heading back to NYC for Tuesday.  She gave us both a quiet goodbye, and then she was gone.  The Trip was (almost) over.

Tuesday was gloomy yet again (and we missed Deb and Yeyé).  Teresa and I had a late breakfast at Toast, and then got on the road to my sister Chris’ new house in Pennsylvania.  Wow, what a drive!  I’d never driven out quite that far, and since Chris and her family have only lived there a few months, this was the first time I’d been to PA in many years.  Indeed, Teresa and I  reflected that neither she nor her sister had ever been to Pennsylvania for any reason.  (New Jersey summer vacations are just that–my relatives and friends, and the Jersey Shore.)  Finally, finally, after almost two hours, we arrived.  My sister’s new home is beautiful–I have severe house envy.  The property is huge, and the views would have been spectacular but for that damned mist all over the place.  So it was great to see where she lived, a nice surprise; but the biggest surprise was seeing my nephew Ryan–quite a lot taller than when we last saw him (at age 15; he’s now 19).  I told my sister that if I’d seen him on the street, I never would have known that was him.

Not a surprise, but a pleasure all the same, was the presence of my sister’s former exchange student Carsten, visiting from Germany with his 4-year-old son, Nino.  Like Colleen’s sons, Nino was unsure of us at first.  I love little kids, and it’s hard for me not to crowd them, but there’s no sense in alienating someone who doesn’t know you.  It didn’t help that I speak almost no German, and the few words I do know are probably mispronounced and too formal for a “family” situation.  However, Nino and Teresa got on famously, despite the language gap.  (I forgot that she’s kind of a kid magnet.)  He sat on her lap and chattered away while the two of them played with a puzzle and various other toys.  We were supposed to drive back to my cousin Cheryl’s that same night, but the weather was so dank (and we were so tired) that we decided to take my sister up on her offer to stay the night.  After the terrific Bolognese sauce and pasta dinner my sister made, we tried to go out for ice cream, but the place we were headed for was closed.  We retired back to my sister’s, where Teresa and I did laundry, then hung out some more and settled into Ryan’s room for the night (he had a modeling job in NJ that evening.  Yes, that’s correct). 

On Wednesday, we drove to Newark Airport, and thus ended our Holiday Week 2015.  Side note: we both got sick.  In fact, all four of us (me, Teresa, Deb and Yeyé) fell ill.  (Oh well.  Shit happens.)  But it was a great week, and an excellent trip, and I would do it all over again (minus the illness).

I leave you with this, the song I love most of all from the Bouncing Souls (via the Kinks):

Here’s wishing you the bluest sky,
And hoping something better comes tomorrow.
Hoping all the verses rhyme,
And the very best of choruses to
Follow all the doubt and sadness.
I know that better things are on the way.

Here’s hoping all the days ahead
Won’t be as bitter as the ones behind you.
Be an optimist instead,
And somehow happiness will find you.
Forget what happened yesterday,
I know that better things are on the way.

It’s really good to see you rocking out
And having fun,
Living like you just begun.
Accept your life and what it brings.
I hope tomorrow you’ll find better things.
I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.

Here’s wishing you the bluest sky,
And hoping something better comes tomorrow.
Hoping all the verses rhyme,
And the very best of choruses to
Follow all the drudge and sadness.
I know that better things are on the way.

I know you’ve got a lot of good things happening up ahead.
The past is gone it’s all been said.
So here’s to what the future brings,
I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.
I know tomorrow you’ll find better things.