Life Before Fabric Softener (a memoir) | 2

The second entry in my to-be written memoir (v.3)—that starts 20 years ago as I was making plans to move to the south of France, looking after my parents’ house in Pennsylvania. First chapter is here.

December, 1997
New Tripoli, Pennsylvania
“Highgrove House”

When my mom and John left for France they hired a service to drive them to the airport. One of the first things I did was take apart the TV/entertainment system. John had a state-of-the-art media setup in the living area, but in my opinion it compromised the overall aesthetics so I disconnected the cords without thinking it could be important to reset things before they returned, I wasn’t thinking that way then.

Instead, after I met up with Pete Snyder, we started leaving musical instruments, drum kits, and amplifiers out. It gave the house a look like real musicians lived there.

Pete and I met at an Irish bar called PJ O’Hallihan’s, which we promptly renamed PJ O’Fuck-a-hans whenever we made plans to meet. He and I were the same age, went to grade school together, but hadn’t seen each other for 15 years. Pete was scrawny, wore art school glasses and a goatee, had thrift store hats, a pit bull named Mimi. And Pete liked to fight which was strange, given his size. I didn’t, but felt emboldened by Pete, who’d get lippy and win most conflicts through sheer posturing. He’d amassed a crew of similar art-types and they all became my new social scene, and my parents’ house, their new hangout. Pete asked if I played any instruments or sang and I lied and said yes (the latter), so we made plans to assemble with his musician friends one coming weekend to record. Pete also knew someone who was single, friends with his girlfriend, and maybe he could set us up. Her name was Bunny though, Bunny Bosco, but she didn’t spell it that way, she spelled it B-o-n-n-e, “Bunny.”

I wasn’t having any luck finding a job but wasn’t trying too hard. It was winter in Pennsylvania and I spent a lot of time trying to get lost on country roads near the house, a town called New Tripoli, in Heidelberg Township. It was off route 100, which connected 22 to 309. They were all bland roads leading to coal towns in the hills, Pennsylvania Dutch country. John had guns and the house was right on the edge of a place where people could hunt, state game lands. I’d take one of the pistols out and aim it into the woods and practice firing but never wore ear protection. After a while I got paranoid living there (the house was big) and started moving the guns from room to room for fear someone could see me through the windows, in the forest. That was part of the problem with the house, it felt exposed. People could see in but you couldn’t see out. Before mom and John left, we’d watched The Blair Witch Project and the show The X-Files had just come out. Mom said there was a part of the house in the kitchen that sometimes made a sound like radio static, like someone spinning the knob on a radio dial fast, and one time a cupboard opened on its own and a cup flew out and hit John right on the head. I did my best to confront any spirits on my own but feared forces outside the house beyond my control. Someone had tried to break in through the master bedroom off the lower deck, someone who’d come to one of my parties I think. I came home and the alarm company had left multiple messages on the machine in John’s office, I had a gun on me but then someone was knocking at the front door, a cop: I put the gun on a drum kit and the cop just smiled and said, playing the drums?—and then left, and I wondered how he could know it was really me living there vs. some criminal, he hadn’t checked my ID or anything. He drove off and I felt scared, all alone.

Bonne and I made plans for Valentine’s Day and drove the scenic route to a town called New Hope along the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border. The restaurant was an old stone farmhouse with candles in each window but I didn’t have any money to speak of, so Bonne and I went Dutch.

It was starting to snow and the ride home looked treacherous but we had John’s Volvo, which felt safe. It was only our first date, but we both knew Bonne would be spending the night, she’d brought her bag. The house was fantastic: it didn’t look like much from the outside but when you walked in, it opened to two stories with the far wall overlooking the valley, all glass. John had a lot of sculptures, art, antique instruments, Native American rugs. And the house had been built by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright (the architect actually lived in the house), so it felt like you were outside even when you were in, the way the windows were designed.

Bonne and I stayed up late drinking vodka tonics out of Mason jars, holding each other as the light changed to morning…but it felt like one of those convenience things, the kind of relationship that comes about in early February when it seems like everyone else has romantic plans for Valentine’s Day and you realize you have none. It became clear we weren’t going anywhere and one night outside a diner she was drunk and chastised me and Pete, called us gay she was so mad, and we both laughed and Pete said sorry, maybe he could find me someone else. Around that time I started temping at a company that manufactured industrial gases and met a girl named Kristin Kaufman who lived across the road on a farm with her aunt and uncle—I got her address in the phone book and started walking by her house hoping we’d bump into each other and I could pretend to be surprised like, oh, hi…!


Categories: Memoir

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10 replies

  1. This one chapter is a great yarn in itself. Enough cinematic stuff to keep Twin Peaks going for a season. Pete/Mimi/Bonne Bosco/guns/poltergeists/Irish bar/beautiful house/Blair Project woods/etc.
    My sister is studying neuroscience, and keeps telling me, pointedly I guess, that our brains are not fully developed, or wired up correctly, until we’re 25 or so. And she’s betting that will get pushed to an even older age. Sounds like you were in your 20’s – when you were disconnecting the wires of the media system, maybe it was urge to replicate the brain at that age.


    • my own current age/brain status, I gotta say! Like my attempts at a build-your-own-shortwave kit – sparking & shorting out all over the place.


    • Yes, keen reader! Was in my 20’s, just 27 when this starts. At a time I should have known better but certainly didn’t. Thanks for commenting on the “yarn,” I’m doing a memory-challenge for myself to see what detail I can bring up without looking at notes. I have some from my time later that summer in France I’m probably going to have to go back to, don’t have enough material from sheer memory but it’s a fun practice…though risking that I’m going to burn it all up and it won’t get me the desired 50K words, we’ll see. Thanks for reading and the nice insights as always. Good image with you and the short wave, too. Bill


  2. Ah, the old “walking by her house” trick. I tried it quite a bit. Today, I believe, they call it stalking … 😳


  3. sounds like you crossed paths with many interesting characters and i know you continue on with that tradition –



  1. Life Before Fabric Softener (a memoir) | 2 — William Pearse | pinklightsabre – Marc Bombenon

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