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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

In Which We Celebrate Life And Loss

Back in September, my siblings and I pulled off the greatest surprise EVER. Our beloved Big Mar was turning 95 on the 25th, and we decided to have a big party for her because SHE WAS GOING TO BE 95!!

You can't drag your feet on that shit.

Anyway, my ever-loving, thoughtful Geo declared my Mum's last remaining sister, Elsie should be, nay, NEEDED to be there to celebrate this incredible milestone with her big sister. When I called to ask my 92 year old Aunt if she would be willing to travel to Pittsburgh to surprise Big Mar, she immediately said yes and cried. She had been wracking her brain trying to figure out how she could get to see her sister for perhaps the last time. You see, the sisters Bossola talk to each other every week, but have only seen each other in person three times over the past 10 years, the last time being two years ago when we Pelino sisters took our Mum to Aunt Elsie's on a trip dubbed the Traveling Sisterhood.

the bond of sisterhood is strong with these two

When we left her standing at her back porch waving us goodbye as we drove away, we all felt the weight of the elephant in the room, or car, as it were. This might be the last time they would see each other. I have three sisters, and I can't even begin to fathom the idea that some day will be the last day I see any one of my siblings. How do you even process that? But at 93 and 90, respectively, that was their cold, hard reality.

So, we plotted and planned behind Big Mar's back to execute Operation: Surprise Big Mar. The plan was for me to secretly fly to Midway, get a car, drive west to Geneseo, pick up Aunt Elsie, drive back to Midway, fly to Pittsburgh and stow her at my sister's house until the next morning wherein Elsie would casually walk into my Mum's dining room for the big surprise.

For over a month, EVERYONE had strict orders NOT to slip up and give anything away to Big Mar. Every time I spoke to anyone in on our caper, I reiterated for them to KEEP THEIR GDAMN TRAP SHUT! Like, I-will-slice-you-in-two-if-you-spoil-this-thing level threats. Seriously, I will cause you un-fucking-fathomable harm if you spill it. Worked like a charm. Except for one person. The biggest asshat in the group--


GDammit, if I wasn't the one who blabbed to her. You know, all casual-like on the phone.

Big Mar: What should I make for dinner for everyone on Friday night? Should I make a big lasagne?

Asshat Child #5: Don't worry about dinner Friday, Mum. We're all going out and the cousins are taking you and Aunt Elsie out to dinner....
*punches self in face super fucking hard*

Big Mar: What, honey?

GinormoAsshat: Mish and Terri are taking you to dinner while we're out.
*sweet baby jesus! please say she didn't hear me*

Big Mar: Oh, okay. That will be nice.

Whew! So yeah, dodged that bullet. For once I was thankful for her compromised hearing.

The day finally came to retrieve my Aunt. It was one, long-ass day for me. I was gone from 4am to 10:30pm. I got to see a beautiful sunrise and sunset at Midway, and in between I got to spend some quality time with my vivacious, remarkable, spunky Aunt.

Good morning, Chicago sunrise!
where's my GD coffee

13 hours later...
i'm just going to close my eyes for a secon..zzzzz

you had one job antique shop. ONE.

We shopped, we ate, she told stories on our long drive back to the airport. And I gotta tell you, she was like the energizer bunny. At 92, she was keeping up with me pace for pace. She had no trouble climbing in and out of the shuttle or walking through the airport. I honestly kept forgetting she was 92! She was amazing! What a joy.

And then the next morning this happened...

Mission Accomplished

Wait. There's something wrong with my eye. Salty fluids keep gushing out.

I posted the video to the Interwebs immediately, as one does in the 21st century of self involvement (my new band name), which sent my social media peeps weeping. I mean, C'MON! How could anyone, whether you know these two women or not, not shed tears of happiness while watching their reunion?

Hooka, please! Pass the Kleenex.

two inspiring ladies

just two fabulous old broads catching up

The entire celebration weekend went off without a hitch. So much love, joy and laughter. Outside of our one cousin who recently moved to South Carolina, everyone on the Bossola side of the family got to visit with Elsie. We couldn't have asked for more.

And Big Mar...

she could not have been any happier, surrounded by all those she holds dear and who love her back, including her little sister.

Miss Datable
What! What!

the outrage is real, mofo

the golden girls

la familia

the entire rag-tag lot of us

Before you knew it, the weekend was over. Tearful, heartfelt goodbyes and lingering hugs were exchanged between the stoic sisters. Geo and I packed our dynamo of an aunt into our car and set off for Illinois.

traveling through land as flat as the Ohio "A"
oh, and corn 

oh hey, more corn

what a surprise...

We offered to break up the 600 mile journey into two days, but Aunt Elsie wouldn't hear of it. Over the course of 10 hours, passing corn field after corn field after corn field in the flat lands of America, Elsie regaled us with the story of her life. And what a life it was. Joining the Marines at 20, meeting and marrying her husband (a marine himself) within two week's time, living in Japan and California, and finally settling in her husband's quaint hometown of Geneseo, Illinois.

She had three passions: her husband, golf and ballroom dance. She and my uncle met at a military dance and basically never stopped. Dancing was there favorite pastime. They'd don their fanciest clothes, she'd put on her favorite heels, and off they'd go to swing, jitterbug and waltz the night away.

all dolled up for a night on the town

I mean, look at them. So stylish in their finery. They were so happy together. They were unable to have children, but they had each other. And a couple of cats to fawn over. Life was good.

there's always time to dance while the steaks are cooking
I adore this photo.
to me, this sums up their relationship

Geo and I had a blast tooling around the boutiques, tchotchke shops and artist markets of Geneseo with my Aunt. Everywhere we went, Aunt Elsie told the clerks how we took her to Pittsburgh for her sister's birthday. She gushed about the party and her visit to everyone who would listen. I gotta tell you, it felt good having brought her so much joy with our little birthday scheme. Our spirits were as lifted as hers.

The next morning, after a full farmer's breakfast, many tears were shed by all three of us as we hugged and kissed goodbye.

with Miss Spunk, 2016

a tearful goodbye 

The last image we have of Aunt Elsie is her arm waving to us out of the window of her sparkling, white 25 year old Chrysler as we embarked on our long journey east.

And now she's gone.

And now this gets really difficult to write.

Less than two months after Big Mar's party, Aunt Elsie was hospitalized for congestive heart failure. She was retaining fluid around her heart. When we traveled to Pittsburgh in September, she and I talked at length about her need for valve replacement surgery similar to the one my Mum had the prior December. The surgery had improved Big Mar's life tremendously. There was no reason why my hail and hearty Aunt would not have a positive outcome as well.

But Life had other plans.

For the first time ever, she was tied to oxygen and a walker to get around. A quick succession of falls took away her courage and independence. Too fearful to stay in her house, she moved into an assisted living facility with the intention of moving into an apartment once she recovered from her valve replacement.

But she never got strong enough physically to have her surgery.

By mid-December, she decided she had enough of hospitals and needles and being bed-ridden, and chose to call it a day. She was ready to wrap up her life and go be with her husband again. As much as I didn't want her to stop fighting, I gotta respect her decision. She stepped off this mortal coil on her own terms. There's some comfort knowing we all have a modicum of control when it comes to the end of our time on this crazy planet. My sisters and I were able to talk to her on the phone and tell her we loved her the day before she died. Big Mar never got through to her for one last chat. I don't know. Perhaps it's best that way. She gets to remember her voice strong and feisty.

I still can't wrap my head around her death. The rapid decline of a woman so vivacious, vital and healthy is unimaginable to me. For Christ's sake, at 92 years old she was still washing her windows and walls twice a year!! Her trip in September is made all the more precious by her absence now. Her visit was a gift to us all. She accomplished what she set out to do, that is, spend time with her family and big sister one last time. Maybe that's why she cried when Geo and I left her in September. Maybe subconsciously she knew that was our swan song.

None of us were able to make the trek west for her funeral. The weather was too unsettled and there was no way we were going to risk Big Mar's health in the vast mid-west winter. To be honest, I didn't want to go. I want to hang on to the memory of my spirited aunt from her September visit and replay the above video over and over again.

I'm going to miss my vibrant Aunt. We were just getting to know each other better. Life is a right-royal bitch sometimes, but you know what? I'm happy for her. She lived a rich, full life chock-full of love, laughter and friendship. And now she's back with her beloved husband; young and beautiful and dancing her heart out in her favorite high heels.

Godspeed, Aunt Elsie. The grace with which you lived your life, especially the latter part is an inspiration. May your dance hall never close.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Okay, so I'm not awful at parallel parking. 

No, seriously. I'm usually pretty good at it. One or two times backing up and I'm in. Easy-peasy.


Which makes the parking atrocity of Friday so puzzling. 

It all started on the North Side. I picked up my friend, Dennis at the Science Center, and headed over to the Modern Cafe on a narrow, two-lane road with parking on both sides. I spotted a sizable space to plop Rita, and proceeded to do my Thang. But my Thang wasn't having any of it. My Thang booked passage on a cruiser heading anywhere but right here where I needed that crazy-ass bitch.

First try: I hit the curb at a sharp angle. 

Second try: a little less sharp, but still sticking as far out in traffic as though a toddler was behind the wheel. 

Third... Fourth... Fifteenth try.  

Suddenly every yinzer in a three-mile radius was zooming down the narrow street, while this ginormous, ginger asshat was blocking traffic with her ineptitude. Even Dennis was like, "WTF, man? I've seen you do this a thousand times." 

Finally, a driver pointed to a car leaving a space large enough to dock the Millennium Falcon. I honked my appreciation, and confidently whipped Rita into place. I got this bad boy now, right?


Not even close. I mean, a fucking one-armed lemur with an eye patch could have wrapped this up faster than me. 


J'accuse, Menopause!*

* from now on, I'm using this as my go-to excuse for all the untoward happenings, decisions, or inabilities that pop up, whether menopause related or not

Meanwhile, during the time I'm making a Goddamn career out of stowing my hot wheel, the guy who showed me the gargantuan spot parked his semi in one go, talked to his friend a bit, paid the parking meter and was heading to a restaurant while I was clearly struggling with the mathematical principles of some sort of parking Pythagorean Theorem that were slipping my addled brain. 

So I had to do it. I had to make eye contact with the lad, because, honestly the entire episode had become ridiculous. The three of us had a gut-busting laugh at my expense. Once he was out of eyesight, I wiped the tears of shame hysteria laughter from my eyes and parked like... an assistant manager. 

As the kids' say: Hashtag ParkingFail

Fast forward four hours to my favorite watering hole, Nadine's in the South Side. Friends were met, several drinks were consumed, questionable stories were over shared. When Denise (NOT Dennis in drag) and I got to my car, some major jackhole parked his gross overcompensating-his-little-dick monstrosity perpendicular to me; leaving roughly five feet for me to maneuver out of the lot. 


*actual quote. from my mouth. out loud. in public.

And guess what? I snaked that mutha OUT! Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth until I was parallel to dickless's truck--with an inch to spare-- and weaved backwards through the motherfuckin' lot to the motherfuckin' alley. AND I only urban kissed the car beside me once. 


Hashtag LikeABoss

Parking redemption complete. Middle fingers in the air like you just don't care. WhutWhut!!

So, in conclusion, Vodka is my car parking super power, yo. Now give me my damn cape. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Of Museums, Randyland and Dumpster Sets In Alleyways

Okay, so it all started with this message:

That's Brian, the drummer from the great Boston band, Guster. We became Facebook friends several years ago. Guster (comprised of Ryan Miller, Adam Gardner, Luke Reynolds and Brian Rosenworcel) are touring this winter, and my girlfriend and I were planning to drive to Philadelphia on January 23rd to catch their always exuberant show because: 

A) they weren't coming to Pittsburgh this leg and 
B) the opener was none other than the lovely blue-eyed one himself, RHETT FUCKING MILLER! 


I mean, C'MON! The double bill of my fangirl dreams! 

Ahhhh, but that fuckwad monster storm, Jonas had other ideas. Poised to dump upwards of 18"- 24" of the powdery white stuff all over the mid Atlantic and Northeast (and subsequently New York City, because weather predictors have their heads up their asses at times and totally blow snow accumulations in metropolitan areas), this beast of a storm cell made travel east a fool's errand. 

jonas was so big,
you couldn't even find the U.S. under it's blanket of badassery

In the end, wiser heads prevailed, and my fangirl-fantasy, double-shot show slated for Saturday, January 23rd was cancelled. 

And there was much sadness in Pittsburgh.  

As it turned out, Pittsburgh got double the predicted snowfall, and I had one hellish drive to The Special K hours before the butt crack of dawn. As grumpy and sad as a petulant child, I finally resigned myself to the fact that this wasn't going to happen. No matter how much I held my breath, I was going to miss the rare opportunity to revel in the spirits of my two favorite performers. 

And then my Facebook Messenger dinged...

Guster made it to their show in State College Friday, but had to reach Charleston, West Virginia for a date with Mountain Stage Sunday night. They braved the elements and made the harrowing trek west to Pittsburgh for an overnighter. FYI, the band loves Pittsburgh. Like, really REALLY LOVES Pittsburgh. As if I needed anymore reasons to love them dearly.

These four bandmates are unbelievably cool. For starters, they're super accessible, social media savvy, and are known to do all sorts of wacky, creative things like acoustic dumpster sets, running errands with fans, and collecting granny afghans from their devotees to cover their instruments and wear as super stylish vests. 

awash in fan-delivered yarnwear

They embrace their public, which is what endears them forever to the hearts of their following. And they are unbelievably sweet, nice guys. 

the expertly curated dumpster stage

So anywho, back to the dumpster set. The guys decided to search for an appropriate dumpster on the North Side near our uber contemporary museum, the Mattress Factory. The other cool thing about this group is they take time to explore the cities in which they play. They ride bikes, visit attractions, eat at local dives. The idea was to hit up the museum after their brief acoustic set. 

the scene of the action

After Brian and Luke freed me from the snow mound I'd managed to lodge my trusty Vibe into, my friend, Lizzie who worked with Guster in Boston, and I packed six men and various instruments in our cars, and headed off to the still snow-covered streets of the North Side. 

Side note: Pittsburgh is notoriously slow to plow its streets, no matter who's mayor. It's just a fact. There was a point where I started to slide and all I could think of was "Don't kill Brian and Ryan. Sweet Jesus! Don't kill Brian and Ryan!" Clearly, I'm not very good in the snow. What was I thinking carting these talented men around post-winter storm?

Brian and Ryan working the interwebs

So the deal is, Bryan picks a dumpster at random. He and Ryan Instagram and Tweet the location and set time. At the designated time, they start playing for whomever shows up. We whiled away the time having lunch at a nearby hole-in-the-wall taco place named El Burro. Delicious and cheap. 

mmmm... burritos

logging the twitter activity

When we walked back from a local coffee shop, five people were waiting by the dumpster. By the time everyone was set up, a few more fans joined in. Neighbors poked their heads out, passersby stopped to listen, curious about the random happening in their alleyway. When it was all said and done, about a dozen or so adults, one baby and two dogs enjoyed the impromptu concert. 

the early birds

soundchecking of sorts

the bulk of the crowd minus the dogs in adorable booties
even the house behind them had a happy "tear" in its eye

the sun played the part of stage lighting
(check out Adam's guitar strap--granny squares!)

The debate in the car was whether to alert fans via Facebook or just post photos afterward. At the last minute, Ryan decided to live stream the event on Facebook using its version of Periscope. Lizzie recorded the pop-up performance. About 1700 watched it live from all over the country. In the time it took to break down the instruments, take photos and walk to the cars, they had amassed 20,000 views. They were blown away! It didn't stop there. In 24 hours, their video had over 135,000 views and was picked up by online newsletter, Next Pittsburgh, shared by who knows how many followers on Facebook and tweeted by a crapton of people, including our hip news anchor, Ken Rice and Mayor Peduto who in his exchange with Ryan promised to declare Guster Day the next time they play in town. This thing has some long legs! And right now, at the time of this writing, they are up to 185,000 views. Madness! 

The power of social media is real, motherfuckers!

Bryan wrote about the analytics on his road journal here. And while your at it, treat yourself to some of his past writings, especially his ongoing battle with his nemesis, the port-o-john. This gem contains a side order of past posts to compliment the hilarity. If this doesn't make you laugh-out-loud-spit-take your morning coffee, we can't be friends. Seriously. 

But I digress... 

After the 20 minute acoustic set, we gathered for a commemorative group photo. A fun time was definitely had by all. 
family photo with most of the audience
(photobombed by the happy house)

Dumpster 2016 Set list:

Doing it By Myself
Jesus on the Radio
This Could All Be Yours

Moving on...

On the drive over, Ryan had expressed a deep interest in going to Pittsburgh's most colorful landmark, Randyland. It's whimsical, chaotic, overstimulating and fantastic. Randy Gilson is the eccentric creator, with a good heart and very little filter. He was outside shoveling snow when we walked the short distance to his house. Sweet guy, but man, is he a talker. He shared his entire back story, philosophy, message in a rapid-fire 15 minute monologue. He's unique in a positive way, but he is a bit out there. You can see for yourself in this video he made with Guster, or "Gustet" as it's labeled here

the man himself

exterior during Randy's monologue

next cover?

inside Randy's garden with the addition of funky Adam panorama head

seems a little too conventional for Randyland
but then again, we don't know what's under the snow

randy and ryan
(a boy's dream come true)

After our adventure in Randyland, we headed back to the Mattress Factory for a guided tour. This museum is one of our city's best kept secrets. A powerhouse of notable contemporary works packed into a small space. The museum occupies three buildings: the main factory space and two houses on the block. Each has it's own specific feel. The curators encourage the artists to utilize their spaces however they want, which at times includes tearing out walls, closets or floors. It's a little bit of New York in the Burgh. 

a wee face in the algae exhibit

this was the eeriest exhibit in the newest building
thousands of strings enveloping ordinary
apartment settings

gives off a combo fairy tale/serial killer vibe

What an insanely great afternoon. I'm still pinching myself. Thanks for letting me tag along, men of Guster. As my niece says, I less than 3 you! It was a perfect early birthday gift. I am one lucky shithead, yo.

I've transported Francis Dunnery, John Green, Murry Hammond, Ken Bethea, and now Brian Rosenworcel and Ryan Miller in my car... I can never sell Rita now.

I can't thank Lizzie enough, first and foremost for her friendship, and for introducing me to these fine humans. 

For my every-loving Geo: 
How about those lucky bastards scraping off their cars to a live Guster soundtrack?

I heart them so. 

Brian dropping the sticks is everything. Ha Ha! 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Time Takes A Cigarette...

I was 12 when my brother bought The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. I think it was a Christmas gift for one of my older sisters. It doesn't matter whose it was, we five shared all of our albums. I remember staring at the strangely dressed figure on the cover, not able to take my eyes off of the provocatively posed, bleach blonde in the blue jumpsuit. Then my brother dropped the needle on Suffragette City, and Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Ma'am, my world opened up. 

Three years later my girlfriend and I signed up to participate in Junior Achievement. JA was a collaboration between local business people and the city to introduce principles of commerce to teenagers. There I meet a 15 year old guy from a tough neighborhood. He was a troubled kid from a messed up family who was mercilessly harassed at school. I liked him. He was weird and different and funny. And a little scary sometimes. And he LOOOOOOVED Bowie. 

Some weeks he'd come in all tense, nervous and out of whack. Adamant and angry over the fresh hell he faced at an unbearable high school where no tolerance was shown towards outsiders and no prisoners were taken. No matter how agitated he was, as soon as we'd start talking about Diamond Dogs, the bullshit was immediately washed away and he'd light up. Bowie was his lifesaver, his safety net, his life's blood. His connection to this flamboyant artist was real. This tender young lad needed Bowie to survive the way humans needed water. 

Music saves, my friend. 

Bowie, his outlandish, gender-bending personas and his music made it okay to be a misfit. By just being, he gave voice to the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the outcast. He was a true original. An innovative musical master who always bent the rules, subverted the dominant paradigm and was elegant to the end. 

And what an ending, huh? He gifted the world a final album on his birthday knowing it would serve as his eulogy when he stepped off this mortal coil two days later. His life and death both played out on his own terms. It doesn't get any more poetic than that. 

To me, Bowie was the ultimate King of Cool, reinventing himself at precisely the right time. Chameleon to the bitter end. An artist at his very core, making his indelible mark on fashion, music, life. Admittedly, my adoration for his genius waxed and waned as I got older, and I cherry-picked through his later catalog. I may not have appreciated every contribution like a devotee, but the ones that resonated with me were magic. They still are. 

It's been a week since the Starman ascended to the heavens, and the void left by his passing is still very real. The outpouring of love, loss and tribute from around the globe continues. The universal loss is palatable.

(I am particularly fond of this clip. It shows his marvelous sense of humor.)

When I first read the shocking news of his death, I immediately thought of two people. The fragile misfit from JA and my musical love, Rhett Miller. Like many pre-teens who don't fit the social norm, he was brutalized at school. Discovering David Bowie saved Rhett's tumultuous young life and inspired him to pursue a life in music. For that, I am forever grateful. 

Wading through the copious essays and reflections, Mr. Miller's was the one I waited for in earnest. His was worth the wait. Like many, Bowie was his "North Star". I won't sully his work with a feeble attempt to summarize. I'll let you read his eloquent, heartfelt thoughts for yourself here

Rhett in his Bowie-shrined bedroom
not knowing his music would become as vital to his fans
as Bowie's was to him. 

Knowing you are not alone in your struggles navigating through the heaviness of being in your most vulnerable years is a precious gift. Music is that gift. Music doesn't judge. Music connects us like family. Whether he realized it or not, David Bowie was the saving arm reaching into the quicksand of adolescence for multitudes of fans.

Well done, sir.

For the time being, it seems only fitting to put his work on repeat, rewatch the Five Years documentary, and thank the Universe for his magnificent light.

Farewell Thin White Duke.