Archive for high school

You Vanish

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2016 by sethdellinger

Grandma was a short, stout woman who made puddings and hoarded swaths of uncut fabric in an upstairs walk-in closet.  Earlier, she had been a farmer’s wife, raising four children and taking on city “Fresh Air” kids in the Sixties.  Her husband came down with Parkinson’s disease and eventually she had to wheel him around the house in a big wheelchair, help him swallow enormous pills.  She tended a garden out back and taught me how to pick peas.  She watched professional wrestling and baseball with the television on mute.  Then one day she vanished.  She’s no longer here.


Jenny was a girl I met in college–or so I’m told.  I was a very heavy drinker in those days, and I literally do not remember knowing her in college.  She found me on Myspace about ten years later.  She had stories about me from college that I didn’t remember but we knew all the same people.  Her father had been my philosophy professor, and I vaguely remembered that.  We texted a lot for a while; we were toying with the idea of romance but after getting together in person, it just wasn’t there.  She liked horror movies and had lots of tattoos.  She was a fairly big woman but something happened at some point to make her lose a remarkable amount of weight–suddenly she was tiny.  I never asked what was wrong with her and she didn’t seem to want to tell me.  She’s gone now.  She’s not anywhere you might look for her.


I went to high school with Nate.  We weren’t really friends, but we knew each other.  We ran in mostly different circles.  But we both went on the class trip to England.  We got somewhat close over the two-week trip, even though he thought he was a little cooler than I was, and I didn’t disagree.  We bonded over being heavy smokers and enjoying a good adult beverage.  When we got back home we mostly went our separate ways, aside from a minor power struggle we had over a female, and one time I accidentally set off the alarm in his lowrider truck.  He was a moody guy who liked the bass in his truck and wore backwards baseball caps.  He was really, really funny.  He disappeared in his mid-twenties.


My first real girlfriend’s father was a nut about World War II aviation.  He’d sit in his chair in the living room and watch History Channel aviation shows all day long.  He was balding in a very adorable way, he didn’t try to hide it but a combover look came to him naturally.  He’d worked most of his prime years for a shoe company that went out of business at just the wrong time.  There was always a dog or a cat in his house that everyone else was mad at but he seemed content to ignore.  He enjoyed “black powder shooting”, which is the hobby of shooting antique firearms.  He never really said much to me–maybe “hi” and “bye” at the appropriate times.  The past seemed to weigh on him.  He has vanished.


What is it, this business we have of ending?  It’s tempting to say we go somewhere–even if it’s just energy, even if it’s another life, anything, anywhere.  Of course, that’s just the rub of it–there is literally no way of knowing.  There is only the ever-present mystery. Although when you confront the thing head-on, there isn’t really much mystery at all.  We all know, at our core, exactly what it is (or better yet, exactly what it isn’t).


Someday I, too, will vanish from these daily comings-and-goings, in a poof, like mist, like a lantern you thought you saw in a window.

where the light gets in

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2015 by sethdellinger



I awoke slowly, groggily, dry-mouthed.  Beneath my body I could feel a bed, a nice bed, cushioney and soft, but also the obtuse crinkle of a plastic sheet.  Then came the sensation of the plastic pillowcase; and then, finally, I remembered.

I was in rehab, and this was my first moment waking up there.  I didn’t dare yet open my eyes.  Who knew what kind of world this was?  

My body felt sick, tired, disgusting.  I was shaking, but not externally.  My insides shook, as if my muscle and blood were a loosely-congealed jelly.  I was hot–I could feel my body heat transferring from my head to the plastic pillow case.  I had to cough, and vomit.  Every bad thing a body can tell you, I was being told, but only slightly, moderately, on the periphery of emergency.  I was in this facility for the treatment of alcohol dependency.  I had arrived in an incredibly drunk state, and so only remembered small pieces of the event.  I did not remember entering the room I was in, or laying on the bed.  I had memory flashes of receptionists, bathrooms, swallowing pills.  Bright fluorescent lights in drop ceilings.  A hallway.  Very little to go on.  I had, in fact, no idea how long I’d been asleep.

I became aware of what had woken me: the sounds of people talking outside my room.  Still without opening my eyes, I could tell these were people standing outdoors, by a window.  As the crow flies, they must have only been seven or eight feet away from me, but of course, they were standing outside talking, while I was laying on a bed in a room with, presumably, the shades drawn.  I felt badly the need to vomit.

With great trepidation I decided to open my eyes.  I did so very slowly, not knowing if there might be someone else in this room with me, and if there was, I might want to continue feigning sleep.  Gradually I let the light in–it hurt tremendously, giving me reason to think I’d slept for over a day.  The room came into focus. Brown wood-grain particle board closets were directly in front of me, at the foot of my single bed.  To my right, another single bed–blissfully unoccupied, the sheets and blanket meticulously made.  A brown balsa wood desk in the corner to my left, and to the far right, a small door that looked like it lead to a bathroom, and beside that door, a larger door–this one presumably the door out. Probably to the hallway that existed in a flash somewhere in my memory.

The room looked frighteningly like any of the countless dorm rooms I’d lived and partied in only a year or two before, and only half a mile away.  I’d lived in rooms just like this where the closet was full of empty beer cans and liquor bottles waiting for an opportunity to go out to the trash without getting caught.  It did not seem that long ago that I’d looked at closet doors just like this one and contemplated hiding inside it, or peeing on it, or whatever.  Now here I was in a similar but very different room.  I was the same person I’d always been, nothing had changed inside me, but suddenly here I was waking up in rehab.

The sudden knowledge of the bathroom woke up a long-dormant pain in my bladder.  With great achiness and slow care, I swung my feet out of the bed and limped my way to the small door I assumed to be the bathroom.  I became aware that the entire place smelled of medicine, like an overly-air conditioned pharmacy.  It was a sterile smell but reassuring; whatever was wrong with me, I was in a place to be fixed.  Someday the shaking might stop.

The first thing I noticed was the sink.  Not because there was anything very special about the sink itself, but because of the large red sticker attached to it, imploring residents to “wash thoroughly” in order to minimize the risk of transmitting Hepatitis.   I peed into the pearly white, larger-than-expected toilet for what seemed like ten minutes.  Relieved, I limped back out of the bathroom thinking I might sleep for another entire day.

But I became sidetracked on the way to the bed by the voices outside my window.  Who were they?  What was going on?  I waddled to the window and ever-so-slightly pried open two slats of the industrial white venetian blinds.

Outside was a large courtyard, completely enclosed on all sides by the one-story brick building which I was inhabiting.  The courtyard was large enough to house two or three full-sized trees, a gazebo, benches, and some concrete walkways.  A dozen or so people were scattered throughout the courtyard, speaking in groups, smoking cigarettes, nursing tiny Styrofoam cups with steam rolling off the tops.  They looked happy—almost like this was grade school recess or a break in a business meeting.  They were of many different ages and seemed to run the gamut on the socio-economic spectrum.  It looked like an inviting place to be, but also terrifying.  I wanted to stay alone in this room forever.  I wanted to get under the blanket where it was dark and plasticy and shake until the world ended, or my parents came and got me.  Somewhere outside these walls my friends were going to work, stopping at gas stations, watching movies in living rooms.  I could hear the chatter outside my window die down as the group was being called back inside.  This was who I had become.




Today I live about forty miles from the rehab I woke up in that day, which was over ten years ago.  I live in an area roughly referred to as Central Pennsylvania, although some purists insist on calling it South Central Pennsylvania.  Neither moniker is quite accurate, but anyway. 

Most places in this world are the same, more or less, although cases for distinctions can certainly be made.  Here in Central Pennsylvania, the case for distinction starts with the city of Harrisburg.  Or, perhaps more aptly put, what the city used to be.  A city on the rise throughout the 1800s, a series of events (both controllable and uncontrollable) caused the city to begin a constant descent into mediocrity and blight much like other, larger Northern “rust belt” cities from the 1920s until present day.  Intense racial division, poor local leadership and the alluring habitability of rural areas outside the city caused an outward migration that has never fully stopped.


Harrisburg (and by extension, Central Pennsylvania) sits on the banks of the Susquehanna River.  Although the Susquehanna appears at first glance to be a mighty, majestic river, it is in fact the longest river in the United States that is not deep enough to allow commercial boating traffic—another contributing factor to Harrisburg’s stagnation.  The river at points nears a mile wide but is often shallow enough to walk the entire way across.  Although it factors greatly in much of America’s history—the Revolution and the founding of Mormonism, for starters—its shallow depth prevents it from achieving any great level of fame, or any truly major cities from growing near it.


As citizens migrated outward from Harrisburg in the early 1920s they formed a network of small towns and communities so close together and homogenous that the ones on the opposite bank of the Susquehanna are often referred to simply as the “West Shore”, as though they were one community.  These tiny towns, often quaint and artisan more than they were hardy and working-class, took their names equally from American history, Native Americans, and the local landscape.  Towns like Camp Hill, Penbrook, Paxtang, Enola, Wormleysburg—each with its own identity, history, and geography, but each in turn also related to the exodus of Harrisburg.  Camp Hill is named after a church whose congregation split into two groups—one of the “camps” held their worships on a nearby hill.  Lemoyne—which used to be named Bridgeport—is a town of four thousand people that for some reason has an intense concentration of guitar and instrument stores.  Paxtang is taken from “Peshtenk”, an English word which means “still waters”, although which still waters it was named for, we don’t know.  New Cumberland hosts a notable apple fest each year despite being relatively far from where the apples grow.  If one were to travel from each of these communities into the neighboring ones, you would notice small but not insignificant changes in elevation, a tangled network of water tributaries, bulbous outcroppings of sedimentary rock, and a collection of wildlife that includes the brown bear, the white tailed deer, the timber rattlesnake, and the turkey vulture.

All of these towns, and Harrisburg and the almost-mighty Susquehanna, are inside a valley.  The Cumberland Valley is bounded by mountains from both the Appalachian and Blue Ridge ranges.  All of the mountains are on the small side, as far as mountains go, although there are certain vistas that can be quite striking, especially in instances where the mountain ranges intersect with the river. 

Although the Valley as we know it extends for only about seventy miles (and, at its narrowest, is only twelve miles wide) the Valley is part of a much larger geographic formation in the state of Pennsylvania known as a Ridge and Valley section, a land formation over a hundred miles wide that consists of repeating north-to-south peaks and valleys, formed, again, by the Appalachians and Blue Ridges.  One can imagine (can one?) the difficulty these north-to-south peaks presented (and to a degree still present) to transportation efforts which in this state show a strong east-to-west desire.

In Pennsylvania, to the north of the Ridge and Valleys lies a vast expanse known as the Appalachian Plateau—basically a continually elevated area that looks like a mountain range but is really just high eroded sediment.  This feature extends all the way to the top of the state until it drops off into Lake Erie. 

To the south of our Cumberland Valley are the Triassic Lowlands—a small misnomer as there continue to be drastic changes in elevation throughout, but there is a distinct absence of mountains in this area, and most of the soil and structure is left over from the Triassic Period—some even from Pangea.  The lowlands continue until Pennsylvania’s small Coastal Plain on the bank of the Delaware River—which supports commercial boating into Philadelphia.

However, this is how the modern human being would experience this world: be in your house.  Travel a few feet out of your house into your car.  Turn on your car, your air conditioning (or your heat) and drive to your destination away from your house.  You will do this by navigating streets, interstates and intersections that you know by heart even though they have nothing to do with you or the land in which you live.  Arrive at your destination.  Walk a few feet from your car into your new destination.  And this is how it is everywhere now—not just in Central Pennsylvania, but everywhere.  You can move all over this country and most of the world and have a relatively changeless existence, never knowing where you are, what the place is like, what made it that way.

Sometimes our destination is in a whole separate town from where we started just a few minutes before, but the speed and ease with which we travel makes noticing these changes unnecessary.  Sometimes we drive our cars over rivers and don’t notice.  Sometimes we drive them through tunnels at the bottoms of mountains and bemoan the loss of cell phone service.  Usually we don’t know the name of the mountain we drove under.  We have no idea the struggle society went through to make such seamless east-to-west travel so unbearably easy.  We see large birds gliding in circles, distant in the sky but don’t know what they are—we don’t even know that we could know what they are, that there was a time we would have known, would have been expected to know, would have been shamed by not knowing what the enormous graceful flying meat eaters were called.  We’re unmoored, unhooked, disconnected, floating in a gel of inconsequence, we don’t know and we don’t know and we don’t know.



My first year out of high school I went away to college–twenty minutes away. I went to a State School in the town next to us, and even though it was so close to home, my parents wanted me to live on campus so I would have the experience. I didn’t take well to the college experience at first (although later I would take to it much too well); I simply wasn’t making friends or doing the whole “college thing”. I was holing myself up in my room all week, ignoring everybody except the roommate I got stuck with, spending my nights on the phone with my girlfriend back home. On weekends, I went home and worked at McDonalds. And hung out with my real friends. And partied.

One weekend I was at a party at some kid’s parent’s house. I have no idea who the kid was, or any good recollection of who was there. I’m not even sure where it was, except that it was in a guest room above their garage. I spent much of the night at the far end of the rectangular room, beside the ping-pong table (it wasn’t in use; we were too lazy for Beer Pong) on old bench seats from the local Little League field after a dugout renovation some fifteen years prior. I was with three good friends who were still in high school, and we were ignoring most of the party.

Late into the evening, as most of the revelers had left and a dozen or so inebriated folks remained, an overweight, bearded man approached us from across the room. I had noticed him all night because he was so out of place. He was at least 28 years old, and a real Red State sort of guy. He wore a camouflage baseball cap and a red flannel shirt, and not the kind of flannel that was so popular in those days: this was the kind of flannel you wore so you could do physical labor in the cold, and it was really ugly. His voice was a thick drawl, thicker than a Pennsylvania redneck; this guy was from the South. This wasn’t a Redneck party, and it wasn’t a 28-year-old party either. In fact, it was a high school party. Even I was a little old for this party. This guy was a sore thumb.

He squeezed his way past the ping pong table and stood before us. I got ready to stand and shake his hand, introduce myself, ask him what the hell he was doing there. But before I could stand all the way he says this: “I know what you guys are.”

We all sort of chuckled, waiting for the punchline or explanation. One of us said, “What are we?”

“Fags. You’re fags, and I hate fags.”

This was shocking. It was shocking because, firstly, we were all raised rather liberal kids, by parents who thought just about everybody was OK and that everybody should be treated OK. Which is not to say that I never uttered the word fag, but we were all misguided youth who thought it was OK to slur if you didn’t mean it in your heart. And this guy obviously meant it in his heart, which was disturbing. Secondly, it shocked us because we were all rather straight, and anyone who had actually observed us throughout the party would have known that. Red Flannel’s statement clearly confused us.

We tried at first to convince him. The hostess of the party had slept with one of my friends, and an ex-girlfriend of mine was also present. We called them over to testify. But the more we tried to convince him, the angrier he got. He started to raise his voice, he started calling us more and varied names (it doesn’t take a genius, after the fact, to realize that this man was quite clearly struggling with his own hidden homosexuality, and his probable attraction to at least one of us. I wish I’d have realized it at the time; things may have ended differently). It didn’t take long for the remaining partiers to flock around us. The hostess and her friends stepped between the man and us. Of course, as soon as they took up that “we’re-stopping-a-fight” position, he took their cue and began to threaten all four of us with physical harm.

While it is true that this man could not have beaten up all four of us, he would have created one hell of a mess and more than a little pain by trying.

The ruckus lasted the better part of an hour, with Red Flannel screaming at us, everyone standing between us, the four of us on one side of the room bewildered. This variety of event didn’t happen to us. We didn’t get in fights, nor had we ever had to get out of a fight, and this made it difficult for us to remain the coolest cats in the room. It was too bizarre of a situation to know what to do. Everyone was now imploring the Red Flannel to leave. At one point, someone suggested that we leave, but Red Flannel made it clear that he would not let that happen.

Finally and somehow, the man left. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Some people laughed, some stalked around, pacing out their anger, muttering about how he had ruined an otherwise chill party. The hostess was afraid the neighbors had heard the noise and would tell the parents.

This idyll lasted only briefly, as perhaps ten minutes after he left, someone reported that he had pulled his truck up to the stairs leading down from the garage apartment–the only way out. His truck was idling. He had his parking lights on, and the glow of a cigarette could be seen behind the wheel. We let out a collective groan. We waited. Fifteen minutes later, he was still there. Our hostess was elected to go down and talk to him.

She returned moments later with the grim news: he wasn’t leaving until the fags left, and when the fags left, he was gonna kick the fag’s asses.

Suddenly and strangely the tone started to shift; although no one would say it, people were clearly beginning to resent us, and somehow blame us. With the Red Flannel no longer present to directly blame, the party was still ruined and there we were. We were quite clearly now blamed, having done absolutely nothing. Us “fags” sat ostracized in a corner while Hostess and Friends tried to figure out what to do. Do they call the cops? Do we wait it out? And somewhere in their subconscious–in that Lord of the Flies part of the brain–I know they had a third option: do we sacrifice them?

The uncertainty seemed to last forever, but in reality it was only about half an hour. The tension in the room was broken by a frightening smash, followed by even louder splintering and cracking noises. Everyone ran to the door, the gray dawn sky and birdsong of the morning shocking us all. And then even more shock, as we saw the Red Flannel’s taillights driving away, faster than a gunshot down the curvy country road, and directly below us the shattered remnants of the wooden steps leading down from the room we were in. He had smashed into them with his truck, rendering most of the lower half useless lumber, and severing the top half from its landing. The top half of the stairs now hung from the building by a few weakened planks, swinging slowly in decreasing circles.

Three days later, the property damage was listed officially as the work of a hit-and-run driver, who was never caught.





A man turns a forty-year-old black plastic knob on his forty-year-old faded white kitchen stove in Pennsport, Philadelphia.  Some mechanism inside the machine clicks repeatedly, while nothing appears to happen.  Then suddenly a small, blue flame appears below the ancient burner plate.  A man has turned a knob and a flame has quietly and simply come out of the machine.  The man will put a metal pot overtop of the flame, add water to the pot as well as other human food products and create a meal suitable to his human palette, all made possible by that quiet little simple flame.  For this service the man will pay about $30 a month, made out on paper checks and dropped in blue mailboxes.  The man does all this, and eats his food, and pays the people for their services, but he has no idea what is happening, how any of it happens.  In fact, he has such an absence of knowledge about it all, he doesn’t realize he knows next to nothing.

Outside the man’s house, if one were to travel mostly south, but a little east, for just a few miles—really just about a mile and a half, you would encounter Passyunk Avenue, a street that cuts unexpectedly diagonally across the city’s otherwise quite simple and helpful grid pattern.  Turning left onto Passyunk Avenue, you would immediately be confronted by a large but not imposing bridge, what is known in bridge parlance as a double-leaf bascule bridge, which is fancy terminology for a drawbridge, but one that has two moveable sections instead of one.  The Passyunk Avenue Bridge, as it is called, was completed in 1983 and is made almost entirely of steel and concrete, although the pedestrian walkways on either side have sections made of cast iron.  The bridge crosses the Schuylkill River, the smaller of the two rivers that border Philadelphia, but alas, like even the smallest river, we still need a bridge to cross it.  The Passyunk Avenue Bridge had to be built as a double-leaf bascule bridge to accommodate the heavy amount of shipping traffic that passes through the area due to the proximity of the Philadelphia Gas Works.

The Gas Works covers a sprawling hundred acres just outside of the city.  This treeless, brown stretch of flatland right beside the Passyunk Avenue Bridge and sidling the muddy shores of the Schuylkill is a mostly ignored eyesore, one motorists tend to not notice that they don’t even notice it.  The long wide expanse is brown dotted with yellows and reds, criss-crossed by pipes of all sizes, with seemingly-random outcroppings of unidentifiable structures, metal winged Eiffels growing out of the mud.  The flat mechanical carnage stretches as far as the eye can see, until it hits the Philadelphia city skyline; a striking vista indeed.

Most of these multi-colored pipes contain natural gas, which in turn is a “fossil fuel”, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Energy we obtain from extraordinarily old things, which in turn got their energy, during their day, from our sun, which is still around.  We dig them up and squeeze our sun’s energy back out of them, thousands and thousands of years later.  The Philadelphia Gas Works doesn’t talk much about where it gets its gas, but for the most part, it isn’t drilled here, although it certainly has been.  Now it is mostly shipped here in those huge boats that go under the Passyunk Avenue Bridge.  But see, here’s where it gets interesting: this energy from the sun was being stored in all these old plants and animals for eons under the ground.  Then we found it (probably in what is known as the Marcellus Shale) and we went to great lengths to get it out of there.  We’ve got to bust open the rocks that it is in, then we’ve got to shore up the cavity we created in the ground so that the gas stays there until we can get it.  Then we have to remove all the impurities from it, so it can be used for things like cooking macaroni and cheese.  These impurities include water; gotta get all the water and other gunk outta there.  But see, if you’re trying to transport natural gas very far, it’s pretty inconvenient to do it in a gas form.  If you can’t get it there in a pipeline (those pipelines only go so far) and you have to send it in, say, a boat, you have to now liquefy the gas.  So we bust up the ground to get it out, then we turn it into liquid and put it in a boat.  We do that by making the gas very cold.  Now this boat chug-a-lugs down the Schuylkill to the Philadelphia Gas Works and huge pipes are hooked up to the belly of the boat and all the really cold liquid gas is pumped into huge tanks.  Then there are other pipes that go from those huge tanks to what the Philadelphia Gas Works really are: the regasification plant.  We warm it back up and make it a gas again.  Then we shoot that gas out into a series of progressively smaller pipes that stretch out in grids that sometimes cover hundreds of miles, until they are in really little pipes that, believe it or not, are actually connected to your house! Then somebody who drops $30 checks into the mail every month decides they want to cook a stew, or maybe do some laundry.  And miraculously, the little blue flame shoots out.

Now this man standing here in Pennsport, he doesn’t know any of this.  And if you were to start telling him about it, he may interrupt you and ask you why it should matter to him.  After all, he’s got his gas, he pays his bill, and everyone doesn’t have to know everything, right?  That’s why there are specialists.  But if you started asking him other questions, about other parts of the city and world around him, you and he might find he continues to know next to nothing about his environment.

Why are the sidewalks in his neighborhood a certain width?  And different widths in other neighborhoods?  Why are the blocks in his neighborhood so long?  Why are they shorter elsewhere? How might these seemingly small details affect his quality of living?  Ask this man what he knows about train traffic through the city, or the history of invasive plant species in Philadelphia.  He doesn’t know, he doesn’t know, and he doesn’t care.  He doesn’t see why he should.  He is content to go to work and come back home and play with his things but the larger scope of the world and environment he lives in are completely lost to him; furthermore there is no compelling reason for him to change this.

This is the exact same thing that’s been said about kids in the country for a generation now, that they’ve lost touch with their environment.  There isn’t that big of a difference between living in the country and living in the city.  In rural areas people have become disconnected from the literal environment, in the cities it is our environment we’ve lost, but it’s all part of the same big moving parts.

In the country, there’s a difference between wildness and wilderness.  Wilderness is what people settle for now when they think they are seeing nature.  They walk on well-worn paths, drive their cars through parks, take tours.  That’s wilderness, but there’s nothing wild about it.  Wildness is self-willed, autonomous, self-organized.  It is the opposite of controlled.  It exists on all sorts of scales.  You can see wildness in the movement of glaciers, or in the star-forming regions of the Orion Nebula.  Wildness is everywhere.  It starts with microscopic particles and it goes more than 13 billion light-years into the cosmos.  It’s in the soil and in the air, it’s on our hands, in our immune systems, in our lungs.  We breathe and wildness comes in—we can’t control it.  And yet, nowadays, almost nobody wants anything to do with that aspect of the world, the real, the wild aspect.  You can live in San Francisco, ride a Google bus to work, stare at a screen, come home, stare at a screen, repeat repeat repeat and never see an ounce of wildness at any scale, but do you know how close whales live to San Francisco?  And giant Redwoods?  There is wildness there to be seen, not just the microbes in your lungs, but at a scale that can impress a human, but still it is screen screen screen, nobody glancing around them.  We are hive creatures now, far more so than in generations past, fiercely attached to our social network, which has become part of our identity.  Nature is a movie that goes by outside the car window.  And along with nature, the real world, the knowledge of the functions of the real world.

In the city, bureaucracy and layers of time and history stand in for the wildness that (only seemingly) gets lost in a metropolis.  Instead of wondering about falcons and sediment layers we can instead pick apart the mystifying nature of zoning ordinances, inter-departmental transportation squabbles, and the righteousness of green space allocation.  But we don’t, almost nobody does.  So it is that no matter where we live, we’re just lost in a machine, or parts in a machine, not knowing what function we serve, not knowing where the machine is going, what we’re really doing.  Turning on switches and turning knobs, putting on clothes we know nothing about to walk to stores we don’t remotely understand, living lives blindly, blindly, trusting in some overarching system to make sure we all get to some kind of finish line on time.

The man in Pennsport stands in front of his stove and makes a delicious meal overtop of his blue flame, eats it and loves it and gets a full belly while watching television, the screen’s glow not all that different from that blue flame, wherever it comes from.




In the winter, Erie, Pennsylvania is a cold, desolate, sometimes dangerous place. It’s not the ideal place to live alone with no friends or relatives within a five-hour drive of you. It snows almost all the damn time, and it’s so cold, and the wind just races across the lake, whether it’s the summer or the winter. Whether the lake is frozen or open, it is seven miles wide, and there is nothing to stop the wind. On one particular winter morning, I rose to an early alarm clock, to work the morning shift at the restaurant where I was a manager. Our day started pretty early, and it’s always hard to get up, but especially when it’s dark outside, and the wind howls like a coyote, and you know there’s snow out there, and maybe more on the way, and maybe more falling even right then. I crawled out of bed, put on my work outfit, poked my head through the blinds, and started my car with my remote start, one of my most beloved modern amenities. Five minutes later I was down there to hop in, excited about the warm inside of my car. It had snowed the night before, but not a whole lot, maybe four or five inches, which isn’t very much when you’re living in Erie. But it was just one of those things, one of those moments where your car and the tires are sitting just right, or just wrong, and despite the fact that you see no perfect reason why, your car is stuck. I had not left myself a whole lot of extra time to get to work, and I was in quite a bind. Being late is sometimes easier than others in that line of work, and I can’t remember the circumstances now, but I do know that I absolutely had to be there on time that day, and my car being stuck put me in a moment of desperation. With nobody to call – not even any small friends or acquaintances, really nobody that I knew – I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I was out of my car, looking all around it, shoveling the snow out from the tires as best I could, trying to rock it a little bit. All the small things one can do by yourself to get your car unstuck, but there’s only so much of that. Then, in the predawn darkness I saw approaching a young man walking down the center of the street that I lived on. I recognized the speed with which he walked and the direction he was going as a man heading to catch a bus. Yes, there were buses, but I had never even looked into that. As he came to pass me I walked onto the street, and sent to him, “Hey man! Hi!  Hey man, excuse me!  I’m in a real bind here, my car is stuck and I really need to get to work.  I’m really screwed here.  Can you help me push it out?”

He stood still and wooden, looking at me through my pleading screed.  After a pause, he said, “But, see, I’m on the way to catch my bus to go to work myself.  What if this makes me late?”

This was one of those very touchy moments in life for me.  I absolutely needed this guy to help me.  But he had a point and I knew it.  Why should he be late to work simply so I could be on time?  I was sure if he helped me, the car could come out quickly and we’d both be on time, but time was crunched so badly, there wasn’t even the moment needed to explain this.  I analyzed my chances, as well as the look of the kid, and rolled the dice.  I said this:

“That’s a chance you’ll just have to take.”



Sometimes when driving, or riding the train, or walking around in some park, I will try to get an image in my head of what the land around me would have looked like four hundred years ago.  The same hills, the same landscape, but in my mind I’ll cover it in nothing and wonder what it was like to be the first person to chance upon it.  This is always useless to me.  There is so much wonder in this world, but I always have trouble getting past our influence, our disasters and clumsy systems.  And even in those places where there is some real beauty, like over at Bartram’s Gardens, or up on Presque Isle, or down the road on the Appalachian Trail, all I have to do is take one look at the skyline in the distance, or the cement path I’m walking on, or hear the sound of the Honda hatchback blaring through the trees, and I am out of the tenuous illusion and coldly back in reality.

We are constantly tethered to some safety line.  There is always a lantern, or a map, or a screen, or a cell phone.  These things guarantee that whatever experience we’re having is just an attempt at connecting with something foreign and old, that it’s not real, no matter how real it looks.  We’ve sketched out a new world over the old, and they are in two separate universes; the old is lost despite the remnants we see of it every day.  If properly prepared, one could live entire decades indoors, in a world of their own creation.

Before I had a family I used to stay indoors for a day or two at a time, talking to no one and doing nothing of value.  Once I did go outside after a long stretch like that, it still felt fake, like some slide in front of my eyes.  At a certain point, I’d have to tell myself, This is actually real and I am actually here, that dog or building or mountain range in the distance is a real thing inhabiting the same space that I am.  I think that must be a very modern sensation, that of having to convince oneself of reality.




My father was born into orchard country. Nestled deep in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley, near the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the South Mountain.  His youngest years were spent in rolling hills crowded by apple trees, which Mexican immigrants picked nearly year-round.  There were Mexican restaurants around unassuming bends in the country roads; I never saw them but I can imagine they might have looked out of place, if one stopped to think about them.  Dad told me a story once about a fancy-looking house that sat at the bottom of a gulley and was surrounded by Red Delicious trees.  I saw the house myself—it’s still there.  It looks like a small but stately plantation.  When Dad was a boy, the house had an in-ground swimming pool, which was quite a luxury in those days, and they’d let him and his friends swim there occasionally.  One Halloween, he was trick-or-treating and the family gave all the boys little pop guns—plastic guns that shot a cork out of a barrel.  He thought they must be rich.  He never forgot it.  He remembers it like it was yesterday.  My mother was born a mere 25 miles away, in a vanishingly small town surrounded by cow pastures, clumps of trees, and lean-to outbuildings.  Farm country.  In fact, she was born on a farm—a working farm, and she grew up doing the kinds of things you might imagine: collecting eggs from innocent chickens, watching her father and brothers shear sheep, waking up at the crack of dawn. Her dream as a little girl was to somehow, someway, move to the nearby small town and help her uncle run a pharmacy he owned there.  She pictured herself sweeping the floor, stocking the shelves, maybe keeping the books.  To her, this was a version of glamour.  Her family would take in kids from “the city” who needed places to stay; Fresh Air Kids, they called them.  Sometimes my mom’s country family swelled to great numbers; a surprising-looking bunch, I’m sure.  My genes—whatever they are—are a swirl of them.  I’ve got orchards in my blood, and my skeleton is a farm.

As a young child, I didn’t know much about my parents or where I’d come from. It wasn’t an issue I pondered.  I knew that I certainly felt like me.  I knew I liked to mostly not talk about what I felt inside.  I knew I liked drawing things, and that I sure did love the outdoors.  I liked playing with small boats in the bathtub, and Matchbox cars in the sandbox, and I hated going to sleep, and the dark scared me.  There were two neighbors who lived two doors down from us—at the time it felt far away, but it is literally just thirty yards, I just looked at it not six months ago—who must have been 50 years old at the time.  I considered them my best friends, although to them I must have seemed like a just occasional little person who happened by.  I liked talking to them and imagining what their grown-up lives were like inside that big red brick house—what the kitchen looked like, what they ate for dinner.  I miss them.  They’re dead now.

I was a fairly typical teenager. I was mostly about having fun; everything was a joke.  I could be cruel.  I smoked a lot of cigarettes and experimented with just about anything that could be experimented with.  I talked a lot.  I thought I was important and smart.  I hid secret desires and interests: poetry, philosophy, sexual confusion, the occult.  I got angry, I got sad, I read classic science fiction novels late at night in my bedroom with the door locked.  Women started to like me and it took me a long time to figure out what to do about it; when I did figure it out I tried very hard to be a “good guy” but still…I often failed.  I liked comic books, American Gladiators, and MTV.  Late in my teens I discovered Tumbling Run, a long hiking trail in the nearby Appalachians that follows a truly adorable stream, which is a trickle at the trail head and as you climb higher becomes a rushing set of falls and deep, clear pools.  I would hike it by myself, find perches away from the trail, pull out a notebook and write poems tailored after E.E. Cummings.  They were full of angst and love and fear.  I thought Tumbling Run would be like my Walden Pond, but mostly, I just forgot about it.

As a young man I encountered my problems: alcoholism and depression. But those weren’t the only defining elements of my life.  As I moved into adulthood I moved away from American Gladiators and even further from the tiny boats in the bathtub.  There were surface changes, like a deeper attraction to poetry and literature and “serious films”, but I changed for real, too.  I got angry.  Angry at everything.  I became of a mind that to judge everyone as harshly and vocally as possible was actually a good trait to have.  I smoked a lot of cigarettes, often two packs a day.  I was still funny, but now with more sarcasm and less joy.  I liked staying awake until the sunrise, never cleaning my car, and throbbing rock and roll.  I hated being alive.

After young adulthood up until this moment (what we shall refer to as life) I’ve just kept on changing.  There are always the obvious, cosmetic alterations: a sudden liking for big band music and Cary Grant films, corduroy jackets and Florsheim loafers, art museum memberships and mini-figurines of Felix Mendelssohn.  But also sea changes, but so fast; one moment I don’t want to talk to people at all, the next I enjoy the communion of strangers.  Seemingly one moment, an actual pastime of mine is driving my car through the country at night, the windows down, blasting music from my CD player, smoking cigarettes. A few nights ago I walked home through the city, listening to my music in my headphones, stopping to read the menu in a restaurant hoping there were vegetarian options. One moment I’m vehemently opposed to sports, the next I’m at an NFL game.

A month or so ago, I had breakfast with two of my oldest, dearest friends.  They looked the same as they always had, as I’m sure I did, and the little dirt-hole diner we ate in was the same as always, and the streets and parking lots were the same as they always were, when I was spending all my days there.  But having been largely gone from the area for five years, it all felt so different, so foreign.  Was that actually me that had lived here, had called these places home, these friends familiar?  Or was it a dream had by a being who calls himself me?  After breakfast one of the friends was driving me to my dad’s house, and as I climbed in his car I was overcome with a strange sensation. When I settled into the passenger seat I realized this was the car of a very serious cigarette smoker; ashes, crumpled empty packs everywhere, the stale pall of smoke infusing the upholstery.  And it looked like many cars I had in my day: old drink cups on the floor, change everywhere, ATM receipts and food wrappers.  I wasn’t grossed out; I felt oddly at home.  It had just been so long since that had been me.  It was like time travel.

If I’m able to look directly at the thought long enough, it becomes very clear that the notion of me doesn’t exist.  I’m a collection of moments, an intricate study in cause-and-effect.  I am the orchard, and the farm, and the boats in the bathtub, and the throbbing rock and roll, and walking home through the city last night.  I am time itself.  I’m not me.




Somewhere everywhere bakers are opening up their shops. The tall commercial ovens click on with whirrs of electricity and gas. The little rooms get stifling and smell of yeast and flour. Today will be a ten or twelve hour shift. They will sweat through their white aprons and go home to unread newspapers. In other cities police officers are rolling out of bed, pulling their crisp uniforms on, fastening the large utility belt in the darkness of their century-old foyer while their family sleeps. The sun peeks over the rooftops and flowers open their petals in their pots along the sides of buildings. Third graders are walking to school wearing raincoats and backpacks and talking about pop singers. They have cell phones and they look up videos as they walk. The sunlight touches their necks and their tiny hairs stand up but nobody notices. A woman who works in a city newsstand arrives to open for the day. She enters through a side door and is alone in the tiny building, darkened still except for a small crack in the still-unopened front window where the light gets in. After taking her coat off, she walks outside, fumbles with the frigid padlock until finally the metal window slides open. It’s the loudest noise on the street yet this morning. Dozens of people are stepping onto an escalator. They avoid eye contact, they look at their phones, they pretend to be in a hurry. They wait on platforms, in hangars, on benches, in bus shelters, lines for elevators, by curbs for cabs, people are waiting. A man alone in a movie theater remembers an ex-lover while watching the Coming Attractions. For a moment he can’t remember what movie he came to see. At a grocery store a woman tries to decide which peach is best for her to buy and in the process she ruins five peaches. Now she can’t even remember if she planned on buying peaches today, and for a moment she wonders how there are this many peaches in the grocery store in the middle of winter, and she tries to recall if she’s ever seen a peach tree, or picked a peach, but she can’t remember, can’t remember, and now she’s thinking of her son away in college but he doesn’t like peaches either. All everywhere people are stuck at traffic signals on streets they don’t know the names of. They pass the minutes listening to talk radio coming from signals they don’t understand, from places they’ve never been, spoken by people they’ll never know. Their internal combustion engines idle beneath them-the sparks and fuel commingling to create a low-key contained continuous explosion. The light turns green and they’re off again to someplace else. An elderly man on a scaffolding nestled against a house hammers nails into shingling, and he will do it all day, all day, and more tomorrow. Grown people are everywhere furiously scribbling notes and typing e-mails and hanging Post-Its and setting reminders—there are so many things to do and to say and remember. A family of four is selling fresh fish in tables filled with ice by the side of the street. The kids should be in school but nobody seems to notice or think to say anything. The fish’s eyes are glassy and fogged up but people still buy them anyway, will still cook and eat them anyway, these hundreds of miles from the ocean. Mail is dropped through slots in doors. Squirrels pause on telephone wires, turning nuts around rapidly in their tiny hands. Landline phones ring in empty rooms and the neighbors can hear it, they can hear it, but they just have to put up with it. Waterfalls just keep insistently sliding over the cliffs, pounding the complacent ground beneath them and digging deeper and deeper holes. Somewhere deep, magma moves, hisses, is still. The tectonic plates are pushing the ground under our feet up into new mountains right now, right now, as we get onto this escalator, it is happening, the earth is forming new things beneath us right now as we ride the escalator, looking at our phones, it always has been doing this and it won’t stop until the sun, dying, swallows the whole planet. But smile anyway, you damned fools, and feel the hairs on your neck stand up in the morning sun, because there is nothing else, nothing else at all.





Speed Dial

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2014 by sethdellinger

Just a few minutes ago, I went into my basement searching for a specific book which I had not heretofore been keeping upstairs.  I had no idea where it was.  While searching for it, I opened a bunch of boxes that I probably hadn’t properly explored in years…stuff I just keep lugging with me from move to move.  In one, I came across an old cigar box that I had entirely forgotten about.  This is it:



This box is the earliest version of boxes I have today, in which I keep just about everything…tickets, programs, invitations, etc.  Well there were things in this cigar box that just blew me away!  Things I have ZERO memory of keeping, and I have no idea what made me think of keeping them at the time, but now they are incredible to see…old paychecks, school class schedules, appointment cards, etc. (And, paul, I found the ticket stubs to the two Seven Mary Three shows we saw together!)  Anyway, most of it will be only interesting to me, but I might post some of it here from time to time, as it suits me.  But this one thing seemed worth posting now.  Here is the little card that was on the phone in my bedroom in high school that showed what I had set as speed dials…I couldn’t help but post this and then tag the people who appear on it (those who I am in contact with on Facebook)…what an interesting snapshot of an era for me.  And how interesting that I had the movies on speed dial even then (it’s hard to read, but #8 says “Movies”) And my grandma? (number “zero” says “Gram A.”)


Someday You Won’t Feel Anything At All About Anything

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2014 by sethdellinger

I had never had to break up with a girl before.  I had been slow in figuring them out–or they had been slow in figuring me out.  Either way, I had never imagined that once I actually had a girlfriend (and one who let me have sex with her, at that!) that I would ever do any breaking up with her.  I figured I’d always be so happy just to put my hand on a boob, or my tongue in a mouth, that the first one who agreed to it would be enough forever.

It was this kind of thinking that kept me with my first “real” girlfriend for 3 years, despite the fact that we were obviously as mismatched as possible.  Looking back on it now, I can’t even remember what we must have talked about.  We did spend a lot of time together, and I have many memories that are not unpleasant (and more than a few that are unpleasant).  Three years is a long time, even when you spend 8 hours a day in school.  So there was a lot of shared history by the time I realized I had to break up with her–but I still don’t know what we talked about.  (not to mention we were each other’s first everything, if you get my drift.)

But I did realize, eventually, that we were a bad fit.  I probably realized this because having been with her for three years, I had finally learned a bit about women and was at that point recieving some other very tempting offers from girls a bit more like me.  I spent weeks agonizing over how to break up with her.  Have you ever had teenage sex with a girl whispering I love you in your ear, knowing full well you are going to break up with her soon?  Well, it’s not as fun as it sounds.

I don’t remember much about the day I did it.  I remember it was in my bedroom, sitting on the bed, and I said it’s time for us to part ways.  It did not go well.  She cried and I was stoic.  I drove her home that night and it was a long drive.  When I got back home, my dad was in the living room watching TV.  I sat on the ottoman and made some small talk as though nothing had happened.  Then I tried to mention off-hand I broke up with her but my voice cracked and a tear jumped into my eye.  It was so hard, I said, as I started crying for real.


Two and a half years earlier….

The greatest thing about finally having a girlfriend was it finally gave me reasons and methods to be some sort of badass.

My friend Mike (I haven’t changed his name because everybody is named Mike) was dating her best friend, so we were a little group, the four of us, double dating, driving to and from school together, the whole bit.

The biggest problem in Mike and I’s lives, however, was that we were still virgins, all four of us.  I doubt it was such a problem for the girls, but it devastated Mike and I daily.  Then one day at school, the girls announced to us that tonight would be “the night”.  My girlfriend would be staying at Mike’s girlfriend’s house for the night.  This house was reachable by both my house and Mike’s house by bicycle (Mike and I were both driving by this time, but not our own cars, and we had curfews that missing cars would belie), and so it was agreed that Mike and I would both bike to the house in the middle of the night and somehow or other, all four of us would lose our virginities.

Mike and I made our own specific plans.  We chose a good spot about halfway between our own houses where we’d meet up on the bikes at precisely midnight and then go the rest of the way together.

Around 11pm, I opened my bedroom window, climbed out and walked around the house to where I’d laid my bike that evening, so I didn’t have to get it out of the garage.

Biking down country roads, alone, at night, in the silence that accompanies said action, is fucking scary.

It was a longer ride than it seemed in my mind to get to the meeting spot.  Since my family had moved out to the country a few years before, I hadn’t done an extensive amount of biking.  I grew up in the small town of Newville, where everything you could imagine was reachable by bicycle.  My brain was not equipped to deal in country miles.  After what seemed hours, I finally arrived at the spot.  No Mike.  I didn’t have a watch (and no, you bastards, this is way before cell phones) so I waited.  I checked the drainage ditches along the sides of the road in case he was laying there, hiding from passing cars (in the country when you’re a teenager, you somehow assume all passing cars are somehow going to tell your parents or the cops that you’re out late), but he wasn’t there.  I waited what I can only say was “a long time”, but I couldn’t tell how long.  It felt like at least an hour.  I couldn’t call out for him, because we had chosen a spot right in front of a few houses.

The thought of biking all the way to Mike’s girlfriend’s house–which I just now understood was really far away–all by myself just seemed like too big of a task.  I assumed he’d missed me, too, and gone on ahead, but if he hadn’t, I’d show up alone, and it would be awkward.  I got on my bike and rode home, climbed into bed sad that I was still a virgin, but somehow relieved that I hadn’t had to go through with the plan.

The next day, Mike told me he’d been hiding in some grass alongside the road and that he never saw or heard me.  It didn’t occur to me until years later that he’d been absolutely lying and he’d never even left his house that night.  Lord knows if the girls were even waiting up for us.


One year after the bicycle night…

Her and I had been driving for hours in what seemed like a circle.  Why I even ever thought the two of us could navigate Philadelphia was a mystery to me.  I didn’t even bring a map, I kept thinking.  If there’s one thing I learned about traveling from my parents, it was to always bring a map.  Did I somehow think we were adults who could do things like drive around cities?  What a fool.

I didn’t want to fight.  I had seen couples who got lost start fighting and it always seemed foolish.  It accomplished nothing.  And so the more tense we got, the more calm I forced my exterior to appear, and the more I love yous I said, and before I knew what hit me, there was the sign for the Turnpike–always a surefire way home.

Once safely on the Turnpike, after smoking a few relaxing cigarettes, she turned and said Seth, you’re a good man.  It was the first time anybody had ever said that to me, and I’ll never forget it.


One year after the Philadelphia trip…

It was a Friday night.  I remember that for certain because we were coming from a high school football game (she was a cheerleader, so I attended every single game, and carried all her gear to my car afterward.  This provides a serious high for any teenage boy, to be seen carrying his prominent cheerleader girlfriend’s things to his car after a game).  It was October and she wanted to go to the “haunted house” that is put on in Newville every October, and which is walking distance from the football field.

I did not want to go.

I’d be in my mid-twenties before I even started watching horror movies, and even now I don’t like things like “haunted houses”–though I do now love horror films.

Back then, I was scared of everything but trying my best to learn how to hide it.  This is Central Pennsylvania, home of tall corn, taller trucks, Joe Montana, and Three Mile Island.  Five-foot-tall men who scare easily are not the preferred type, and I knew that, and so was consistently doing things like this that every fiber of my being told me to turn from.

We got in line for the haunted house.  I remember she was still in her cheerleading uniform which I–surprise–found very sexy, even after 2 years of having sex with her while she wore the damn thing every Friday night during football season (and after home basketball games, too).  It’s amazing how long a 17 year old boy can stay transfixed on a detail.  So even then, that night, I tried to stay transfixed on the uniform instead of what I assumed would be the bone chilling terror inside the haunted house.

She noticed how I was looking at her and backed me against a wall, slid her hand down my pants.  She wanted to get me off right there, in line!

But I wasn’t aroused.  After a minute or two of attempting to get me going, she asked what was wrong.

“I’m just a little…scared,” I said.

“Of the haunted house?” she asked.

“Yep.  Just a little.”

She withdrew her hand from my pants and, looking me square in the eyes, said You pussy.

That’s another thing she said to me that I’ll never forget.



Eleven years after the haunted house…

i was out shopping about a week ago with a close close female friend of mine i didn’t need anything we weren’t shopping for me we were shopping for her so of course it stands to reason we were spending alot of if not most of our time in clothing stores i like shopping for clothes with women at least if it’s a woman i like i like to be just honest enough that they believe me about how things look on them and besides if i’m spending a day shopping with a woman chances are i find her deliriously attractive to begin with and have on immense blinders and truly think everything looks good on her anyway so i rarely get bored while clothes shopping with women except for when they are a woman who takes forever trying clothes on and this particular woman friend of mine happens to be the type who takes forever trying clothes on so about two hours into the shopping excursion while she is in a fitting room i wandered out into the mall and spent about five minutes looking at this kiosk that was all about some homeschooling-over-the-internet thing and they had a nice display and i picked up some of the books children’s books and educational books and felt the heft of them paged through smelling the smell of them remembering when i thought books were like shiny little stars with worlds in them like ameoba in a toad’s pee-puddle and i would feel the pages the coarse roughhewn pages like they were an heirloom quilt and when i had had my fill of standing at the kiosk reminiscing i wandered back into the store and halfway to the back i saw her.  Not the friend i was there shopping with but the first girlfriend the first one ever she still looked like she was 17 although a bit more like a woman now in fact she looked very good–not as good as the friend I was shoppign with but very good nonetheless– and although i immediately turned my head and pretended i hadn’t noticed her it was like i could smell her hair and the minty basement smell of sex with her and could see from a distance the way her lips aren’t lined up right and the sad swing of her braless breasts and i wanted to turn to her from across the store and say ‘i never knew you and you never knew me and that’s pretty much all there ever is to anything but we tried’ and then promptly turn and leave.  but i didn’t.  i meandered around the store at a safe distance so she could see me, so she could remember, too.



Fourteen years before the shopping trip…

We sat at the back of the bus, my friends and I.  We had finally graduated to that level of bad-assness.  We were the big kids on the back of the bus, though I was of course never “big”, but I had some major seniority on bus #10.

Lately, though, things had been all about our friend John, who had recently become the first of us to lose his virginity.  Each and every bus ride now, for the last week, had been filled with tales he’d tell us about what it was like.  We all wondered what this girl would be like.  John was an athlete and not unpopular, so she must really be something (I’d learn later that John had made up every sexual encounter with the girl; he ended up being a virgin longer than I was).

We were sitting in the school parking lot in the morning, waiting to be let off, when John said There she is, and he tapped on the window as a young girl passed by.  She stopped, grinned ear-to-ear, tapped back on the glass and blew a kiss to John.

That was the first time I ever laid eyes on her, and I remember thinking I was slightly unimpressed.  If only I knew how good she’d look fourteen years later while shopping in a backwater mall.

My 28th Favorite Song of All-Time

Posted in 100 Favorite Songs with tags on October 7, 2012 by sethdellinger

Click here to read about this list, or click here to see all previous posts on this list.

…and my 28th favorite song of all-time is:

“Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads

My first time hearing this song, it was playing in the background of a piece on Channel One, sometime in my middle school years.  I remember being very attracted to it’s beat, followed by seemingly disjointed and incongruous lyrics that seemed poignant but unconnected.  “And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack.  And you may find yourself in another part of the world.   And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile.”  The song seemed to be a key to understanding very basic facts about our modern life, which I just couldn’t quite (and still can’t) quite understand.  But the song sure is a damn fun mystery.


Posted in Memoir with tags on June 12, 2012 by sethdellinger

This time of year, many of my younger employees graduate, and it always gets me thinking about my high school experience.  Tonight, I broke out my senior year book and was highly entertained by the things my friends at the time signed in it.  (this is nearly 18 years ago now!).  I thought I’d share some of the ones that made me chuckle with you here.  I have omitted any names, and haven’t included any of the more sincere ones from my closest friends or my long-term high school girlfriend.  So strange to look back on these now!  I’ve kept all their spelling and punctuation as they wrote it.  The blank places are names removed.

Seth, to my long ago “ex”.  We had a lot of fun in espanol especially making that video.  I think we’ve had a class together every single year.  Well have fun with B____ and we’ll see about J______.   Love, T______.


Hey Seth or should I say Wallflower.  Hope ya have a great summer.  And good luck with college.  You stupid, hillbilly, liver eatin’, sock suckin’, crab infested, junk collectin’, crimefightin’ jerk.  Have a great year.  D_____.


Seth—  Never forget me, but then how could you!  Never forget our talks about your uncle and all of the other perverted stuff!  Take care of B_______!   Hey never forget “P_______”!  (You pervert!)  Love, S_______


Seth, this year we are GODS.  Except some people like in our Health class, and some more than others, like D______, for huge enormous reasons which we all know (I’m saying he’s more godlike than scrublike).  Well I hope you have fun this year and lots of luck!  Love, J_______


Seth, to the cutest little pervert I ever met.  You always make me laugh.  Thank god this is our last year.  Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.  Love, A_____


S-Dawg, Too the coolest Dawg I met this year.  S-Dawg I am glad I met you, because you are the coolest friend a person could have.  Stay in touch with me and keep it hanging loose. PS LICK BAWLS.  J_______



My Friend Paul

Posted in Memoir, Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2012 by sethdellinger

My homeslice Paul and I just had a public tiff on my blog.  Which sucks, because there aren’t many people in this life more important to me than Paul is, so I thought maybe I’d write a blog about our friendship.  Although it should be noted that we do have a nice history of being little bitches to each other and arguing about stupid shit, but that was mostly over a decade ago, while we were cooking together at the same restaurant, probably sleep-deprived and hung-over, but still.  We fight.

I’m sure I knew who Paul was before he knew who I was.  Why?  Because he played football for my high school.  He was a year ahead of me, and we weren’t within light years of each other’s social groups.  I wasn’t extremely aware of him, but I was aware of him.  Years later, I’d frequently have dreams that I’d been transported back to high school (with all of my intervening memories and experiences intact) and I’d seek out Paul, who, when I found him, had also been transported with his memory intact.  And so there we were, in high school, finally knowing each other.  They were weird dreams.

In the months following high school, I became a regular at the restaurant Paul worked at.  I frequented it late at night with my friend Jeremy and his girlfriend Cory (who I would later coup d-etat away from him); Jeremy had known Paul in high school, so Paul would come visit our table.  I remember being suspicious, because Jeremy had been the star of the soccer team, and here was this Paul guy, also an athlete.  And Cory, although she didn’t attend our high school, was the captain of her cheerleading squad.  I suspected I might soon find myself on the outside.  I know you’ve all seen pictures of me in wrestling or baseball uniforms, but I assure you, I was no athlete.

Fate is a fickle broad.  Before I knew what was happening, suddenly, I worked at that restaurant, too, and before long, I was a cook there, too, and before long, I was working overnights in the kitchen with Paul, too.  And (long story short here) we ended up going to the same college and being roommates and having the same group of college friends.  Paul and I had quite rapidly become insperable, the kind of friends that when you show up somewhere alone, people always ask you where the other one is;  although how that sort of thing happens is beyond me.  All these years later, it just seems natural that Paul and I are hetero-lifemates, but back then, it didn’t seem so simple.  Paul and I are quite different men (as good friends often are).  We share some simliar interests, but actually have more differences than similarities.  And not just the surface items like, he’s into sports and I’m not, or I’m into poetry and he’s not, as these differences are what can make a friendship keep ticking over the years (the male friends I do have whose interests most align with mine, I mostly don’t care for all that much, and I just keep them around because I might need them some day…for what, I have no idea).  But Paul and I’s differences seemed a bit deeper than that to me.  Mostly, he was a good soul and I was a bad one.

Now, he’ll probably want to argue with that, and he certainly could make a case for it.  After all, we were damn young, and drunk and tired pretty much ceaselessly, and in college, and—dare I say it—completely captivating to the opposite gender.  Neither of us were perfect young men.  But in Paul, one could see the seed of a quality adult, and a man who could discern right from wrong (even if he still sometimes chose to ignore that distinction), and how to be honest, and forthright, and helpful.

I, on the other hand, was a total shit.  It was probably obvious fairly early on that, while a whole bunch of us were partying constantly, I was the only one who couldn’t have stopped if I tried.  And no matter what you believe about how much I am to blame for that addiction, the fact is that being a drunk is not often accompanied by positive personality traits.  All those positive traits I listed above for Paul, think of their opposites, and apply them to the me of back then.

But somehow, we fit together.  We picked up some company on the way (“Nature Boy” Chris Davey, Burke “Testudo” Bowen, Heidi “Heidi” Dagen, “Mello” Cory Kelso, “Sultry” Joel Holtry, and quite a few others) and within a year of meeting Paul, I suddenly had a brand new group of friends and a new lifestyle, the old high school chums all-but forgotten.  And this was just in time, of course, for my descent into serious alcoholic oblivion.

There are lots of people to thank for how they handled my alcoholism and for what they did to help me, but as far as my friends go, nobody can really get more credit than Paul, a fact I’ve never really told him (fuck!  I’m crying now!).  Paul never made me feel like I was a bad person because I was unable to stop drinking.  He always seemed to understand that it was like any other addiction; for instance, his own reliance on cigarettes.  Now, he never said that to me, but his actions and the way he treated me suggest he thought that way.  He never told me I needed to stop, or slow down (that might sound reckless to you, but it’s my philosophy that “intevention” methodologies are counteractive.  Making somebody feel like shit never chased an addiction out of their skin, a philosophy my parents also seemed to share, which is another big reason I think I’m alive today);  when I would, on rare occasions, talk to him about my addiction and my fear relating to it (being in the grip of an addiction to a mind-altering substance is absolutely terrifying), he was understanding and helpful, never demeaning or judgmental, but forthright and honest in ways that showed a maturity and understanding that I’m not sure I could master even now, at age 34.

I still remember the day I decided—firmly, absolutely—that I could get sober, and that I would go to rehab and attempt to live the rest of my life and not die ASAP. I was at the apartment of Paul and his girlfriend at the time, Shelley.  I was drinking, but I wasn’t sad, I was just talking to them about being addicted, and how much it sucked.  I’ll never be sure which one of them said it first, but someone said, “Why don’t you just go to rehab?”, and they said it so…normally.  Like it was just something you could do, if you wanted.  Now, obviously the time was right, and there were plenty of other factors and people that contributed to that moment in time, but I said, “OK.  I’m going to!”  And I got the phone book and called a rehab and reserved a bed, that very afternoon, and then called my mom and dad (by then, that was two seperate phone calls) and told them “I’m going to rehab“.  It would be close to a year by the time I celebrated my final sobriety date of April 3rd, but that afternoon in Paul’s apartment stands out as the beginning of the beginning.  And he’s been so beautifully understanding and intuitive in regards to my sobriety.  He was my first friend to order an alcoholic beverage when out to dinner with me;  it was time, I was OK with it, and he just knew.  He knew that at that point I’d prefer him to do what he’d normally do.  It was more important to me that I not feel like the freak.  He was the first friend of mine who seemed to understand that I hadn’t really changed; sure, I had always been known as the guy who drinks all the time, but the core me was the same and now more me than before; the diseased filter had simply been removed.  Many friends felt the need to treat me, for a few years, like a kid who had just barely recovered from Leukemia.  Paul seemed to know that was unnecessary, and just kept treating me like the same guy from before, only without a drink in my hand.

I would love (really, I would) to just keep writing and writing and tell tons of little stories from our lives together.  Paul and I have lots of great stories.  But maybe I’ll just hit some highlights (and maybe there will be more blogs like this in the future…I feel as though I could write a book.  Tonight.  In two hours.  But anyway, the highlights):

—Paul and I share an intense love for two bands: Seven Mary Three and Hey Rosetta!  And these loves mark two distinct eras in our lives: college (7m3) and now (HR).  In an intereting twist, the first TWO times I saw both these bands, it was Paul and I together (along with others).  And these were amazing experiences that have shaped my idea of how concert-going should feel: like you are touching the hand of god.  It rarely is that good, but it is an ideal to strive for.  In many other ways, Paul and I’s musical tastes diverge, but they align where it counts. (hey Paul…the trip to see 7m3 in York…remember D’Marco Farr?  And please always remember, I called the opener in DC (“Peel”), and also, remember that fancy restaurant you picked for us to eat at in Ithaca, NY, the night we saw Hey Rosetta!?  That night was the beginning of my ongoing love affair with the Americano.  But I now drink them iced.)

–The Chair of Good and Evil.  Paul and I found a horrid, ratty, falling-apart recliner by a dumpster when we lived in college.  For reasons unbeknownst to us, we took it into our dorm room.  It really was a horrible chair.  It’s existence to us was more of a joke than anything else.  We wrote all over it in magic marker.  Quotes from movies, things we said all the time, lines from 7m3 songs (“A little motivation goes a long way down, down, down.”)  I somehow got the chair to my dad’s house for a year or two after college, but I’m sure it’s long gone by now.

–Remember that dorm room I mentioned? Yeah, we got kicked out of it.

–“Circus Midgets Ate My Balls”.  That’s all I’m saying about that.

–Movies we watched dozens or even hundreds of times together, even if they weren’t that good:  “Friday”, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, “The Borrowers“, “Mallrats”.

–The first time I visted Paul after I got sober and moved to New Jersey, we played golf and I beat him.  Which is the only time I can remember beating him at anything other than MarioKart.  So I bring it up here again, even 8 years later.  The gloating continues.

–I had the disctinct pleasure of giving the toast at Paul’s wedding to his fantastic wife, Liz.  I have never felt more honored in my life, and that honor continues to this day.

–Paul is a big Baltimore Orioles fan, so for his “bachelor party”, fellow Paul bud “Mello” Cory Kelso and I took him to an Orioles game, making the odd fact true: the last major league baseball game I attended was a Baltimore Orioles game.

–Mr. Turnpike, Nature Boy, and the Wise Guy (Man) in the Back Seat

–Ham on Both Ends

–Aint got me on tape.

I love you, Paul.  You continue to be the model for the type of man I want to be.  Thank you for being part of my life (and helping to save it).

L-R, Paul, Me, Davey (code names: Mr. Turnpike, Wise Guy in the Back Seat, Nature Boy)

Davey, me, and Paul, the first time we ever saw Hey Rosetta!, in Ithaca, NY.

Picture of Paul on the day I beat him at golf. He sucked that day.

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