"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." - Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

...Dying of the Light, Part Deux.

Previously, on 'Rage Against The...'

Young Mr. Feeney, buoyed by phony Facebook-induced nostalgia, embarkes on an ill-fated journey back to his old hometown to recapture something he feels he may have lost in the ensuing years. 

Unfortunately, he has about the same chance of finding Bigfoot's baby teeth with a Handy Manny™ flashlight and a coke spoon.

And now, the conclusion...

Hotel room? Booked.

Car?  Oil changed and tank all gassed up.

Clothes, toiletries and assorted personal items?  Packed.

Sense of self-worth?  Grossly over-inflated.

Then, it's off I go!  Six hours and one large Dunkin Donuts iced coconut coffee with milk and two Splenda® later and I am in PA.

The lanes where I learned to bowl so poorly.
I decide to drive around my old stomping grounds to see what has changed and, most importantly, what hasn't.  The streets and houses are very much the same.  However, the terrible economy of the past few years has taken it's toll, as it has most everywhere.  The Clemens Supermarket is closed, the Lans-Bowl bowling lanes were destroyed by a fire.  Downtown has seen a lot of changes, most not for the better. I checked into the hotel...nice place.  It's right down the street from Merck Pharmaceuticals where my Dad worked for 44 years.  More déjà vu.  Must be a glitch in the Matrix. After an excellent pizza steak sandwich at Ray's, (Thanks for the recommendation, Chris!) I settle in for the night, still excited about the reunion.

The next morning is bright and crisp...a gorgeous fall day.  I have a plan for the morning; A visit to the Lansdale Historical Society.  Exciting, I know but if you want to relieve the past, you go where the past still lives and breathes.  I spend the morning poring through microfiche records of the local newspaper, the North Penn Reporter, looking for evidence of now non-existent childhood haunts.  More specifically, the movie theaters where I spent many a weekend.  In a small town in the seventies, no one cared if you left an eight-year-old child by themselves at the movies all afternoon.

A sketch of the old Lansdale Theatre that hangs proudly in my home. 
I remember the first 'grown up' movie I got to see by myself, the 1977 disaster movie Rollercoaster, about a terrorist blowing up amusement park attractions. It featured a cool gimmick called Sensurround, which used low frequency sound waves to cause the seats to rumble every time the coasters were on the screen.  It scared the hell out of me.  Not the movie, mind you. Looming above me was a giant glass chandelier that dangled like the Sword of Damocles threatening to crash down on me at any moment. The chandelier* was part of the dangerous charms of the Lansdale Theatre, a decaying old Art Deco movie house, built in 1928.  The danger was apparently all too real for the theatre would have to be torn down in 1979.

After my acid trip down Memory Lane, I drove around some more, reliving good and simpler times I had spent with my folks.  I passed the house where my sister lives with her husband. We haven't spoken since our Dad passed away.  She doesn't know I'm married.  She doesn't know I'm a Dad.  She doesn't know our brother also passed away earlier this year.  I thought about contacting her, but I'm not sure what I would even say anymore. "Hey, it's me.  You remember...your brother Tom.  Yeah, long time I know.  Guess what?  Mike died earlier this year.  Oh, and while you're processing that, listen to this: before he died, he said he didn't want me to ever tell you. What's new with you?"

Yeah, I don't see that going well at all.

Anyway, on to slightly less depressing things.  Like the pseudo-reunion!  Okay, let's set the stage here; I am appropriately manscaped and ready for a fun evening of hellos, how-are-yous, you-look-greats and a few where've-you-beens.  I get to the restaurant/bar promptly at 7:00pm.  It's a lively place called Bones, which makes no sense to me because there isn't one picture of DeForest Kelley to be found in the whole place (and believe me, I looked).  There were already a few people milling about the bar area.  I wasn't sure who they were because they all looked so damn old when I haven't changed one tiny little bit!  This couldn't be right.  I scanned the room like a Terminator looking for Sarah Connor, but instead only found a roiling sea of Male Pattern Baldness, beer bellies, bad perms and Covergirl foundation makeup.

Finally, I spotted a familiar face entering the room.  Mike Rosiak, a jovial fellow I remember from back in the day had arrived.  I am sure he would be the first to admit he is rather hard to miss.  He's a burly dude and stuck out like the Incredible Hulk at an albino midget convention.  He stopped my way for a bone-breaking handshake and then got swarmed by everyone else in the room.  "Okay" I thought. "One down, now let's see who else I remember."  Minutes passed.  Then hours.  Then weeks.  An equinox or two went by.  Not a peep.  I saw my reflection in the mirror behind the bar which confirmed that I had not suddenly turned invisible, so that explanation was out.  Guys were fake-hugging, women were screeching like the brakes of a freight train about to crush a school bus (why can't my metaphors ever be pleasant?) and there I sat, drowning alone in a sea of humanity.

I was pissed, to say the least.  Sure, I may have made matters worse by writing 'Batman' on my name tag, but come on! Speaking of swooping down and saving the day, I was eternally grateful when two of my non-high school friends came to the party specifically to see me.  Chris Badali, whom I have known since first grade and has always been a stand-up guy (even though he's now a blood sucking divorce attorney) and my former La Salle classmate Leo Hesser, who back then was kind of a cross between James Dean and Mick Jones of The Clash.  Too cool for school.  Still is, bless 'im.  So, there we were...a trio of geezers-in-training, reminiscing and talking trash about everyone else in the room. 
L-to-R; Leo Hesser, Tom Feeney, Christian Badali (a.k.a The LensCrafters Trio)

Now, that was more like it.

Oh, there was someone else who recognized me.  Back in my junior year, there was this one girl who sat in the row next to me in French class.  Cute as a button and sweet as a Pixie Stick, she was one of the intense, yet fleeting crushes I had back then.  She looked at me once, then once again.  The light of recognition flashed in her Keane-esque eyes and she approached me.  She didn't remember my name (she probably figured out right away it wasn't Batman), but I remembered hers.  I got a nice hug and she held my face in her hands and smiled.  A minor validation, but it was enough for me.  Then, she introduced me to her 24 -year-old daughter.  Yikes.  A Freaky Friday moment if ever there was one.

My friends and I hung out for a little while longer, then we retired to another, slightly less crowded and noisy bar for a final drink before saying our goodbyes.  All in all, not a terrible evening.  I'm sorry there were a few people I missed seeing, but there's always tomorrow. 

There I go again, proving my legendary pessimism to be a sham worthy of old Professor Marvel himself.

The next morning I checked out of the hotel and made my way back home. The home I made with my wife and daughter.  The place where I really belong.

On my way out of town, I heard WMMR play All You Zombies by The Hooters.  "Couldn't have written a better ending myself," I thought.

*That same chandelier is now hanging in a theatre in Oregon. Nice to know it survived and is now frightening new generations of kids!


  1. You forgot to mention the tiny neon tags that we all wore, and the accompanying squints as we tried to read them. I was seriously flustered trying to make my way through the mobbed bar, looking for a place to sit and one familiar face. I'm so sorry it wasn't yours! Next time I will wear a sign ("Yes, I'm Patti LITKA Brown and I WAS in your class!") and bring my yearbook so I can try to place everyone. Or maybe we could just agree to meet at the last seat at the south end of the bar? I hope I have a chance to see you again soon, and I hope that I actually DO see you when I get the chance!

  2. I had to laugh at your not recognizing anybody in the room full of old people! I remember going to my 15-year college reunion and seriously thinking I was in the wrong class tent because everyone there was WAAAAAY older than I was. At our GMA Elementary Class of '81 reunions, we all look EXACTLY the same as we did in 8th grade. You would recognize everyone immediately. Really. Look at the pictures. Hope to see you at one soon!

  3. that was funny. i like the "lenscrafters trio" and the"roiling sea of male pattern baldness" especially!

  4. Patti, next time we'll have to forego the name tags, the crowds AND the noisy bar! So uncivilized!

  5. Charlene, I will definitely keep my eyes open for the next GMA reunion, but I may have to rent a limo, because that drive just killed my back!