Posts Tagged ‘pen pals’

[February, 1996] “What if?” Territory



Ah yes. I would be one of his dinner guests.

He also told me how he left the bookstore and walked a couple of blocks to his destination then thought, “Why didn’t I get her number?” I said I wish he had. Then he found out he got a letter from me and tried to look me up but the number was unlisted. Frustrating. The distance will be, too. But we’ll see each other again and have a lovely adventure.

I discussed the prospect of spending the summer with him with Anita and she said she wouldn’t be upset because she knows he is just a once in a lifetime guy. This is so hard to believe. I slept 2 hours the other night and feel magnificent.

First off, as happy as I am for my 18-year-old in-love-self, I sure wish I wasn’t such a cornball about it. I wince to see how much I used words like “lovely” and “magnificent” at the time. Then again, I did always have a flair for the dramatic*, so I can’t blame myself for being so grandiose about the whole damn thing. But back to the entry.

Years prior, when I was cultivating a collection of pen pals, as a way to fill the pages and learn more about each other, we’d ask all kinds of hypothetical questions. One of my favorites was: if you could invite any two people (living or dead) to dinner, who would they be? For Bradley, to have a world full of geniuses, legendary figures, and all kinds of fascinating individuals, from humanity’s entire history to choose from, but name me as one of his choices was a hell of a compliment. Then again, at that point in time he would have been one of my guests, too.

And if we tread into “what if?” territory I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he did get my phone number that night at the bookstore. He was in town for another week and I was on Christmas break, so we would’ve been able to spend time face to face instead of over pen and paper and telephone lines. Would things have fizzled within days or become more passionate and immediate or something in between? Speculating is pointless, but I wonder what that parallel chain of events would’ve looked like.

As for the summer, the original plan was to go to Ireland with Anita. While my obsession with U2 had tapered off some at that point, we still had a desire to go abroad and see the beautiful country. We talked about visiting Windmill Lane Studios, where the band recorded some of their albums, and yes, perhaps taking a quick peek at their houses (nothing crazy; we had no intention to go climbing security fences or anything). Bradley’s existence made me reconsider that trip and think of heading west instead. Not that he and I had talked about my traveling to Alaska to see him, but our correspondence was building in intensity. It was inevitable that we’d discuss a way to meet in person sooner or later (and since impatience was my middle names, odds were it would be sooner). After all, I was sure we were destined to meet again and have a “lovely adventure.” Weren’t we?



*Alright, no point in using past tense there. I can still be a big ol’ drama queen today.

[January, 1996] Unhappy Birthday

Image by © Solus-Veer/Corbis

Image by © Solus-Veer/Corbis


Brad still hasn’t written. I figure I’ll give him until the end of the month and then I’ll send the tape back with a “hope you got my letter” note. Katie mailed my postcard to Tim (w/the Smiths quote “You’re evil and you lie and if you should ever die I may feel slightly sad but I won’t cry”). I hate Tim. Very much. Suicide is really the only acceptable excuse. So Tim is dead. Or else I would have heard from him.

I feel restless. I’ve been that way a lot lately (lately meaning the last few years). I’m sitting next to Jim, who’s pissed that I never mentioned him in my journal. There, now he can’t complain. I’m going to go off and try to be creative now.

Wow, crabby much?

Let me explain the Tim situation. It’s probably not going to make me look like a less horrible person but a girl can try. Tim was a pen pal with great music taste, depressive tendencies and something of a muse to me. And of course I had a crush on him, because who had two thumbs and a weakness for gloomy goth boys in need of saving? This gal. (Still have the thumbs but grew out of the other thing, to an extent.) Tim and I traded letters and mix tapes and phone calls, and then he got a girlfriend and wasn’t so depressed anymore. Then I briefly visited him and we resumed our correspondence—and then he fell off the radar.

Which happens. I lost touch with pen pals all the time. At one point, in my mid-teens, I had as many as fifteen at a time, but then I started going to concerts and parties and the Village and had less time for letters. Had a boyfriend been thrown into the mix, I’m sure I’d barely have any pen pals left. But I thought the friendship Tim and I had was special. So I was particularly stung when months went by with no word from him. Especially when I traveled hundreds of miles to visit him. And then I became angry. Not that it’s any excuse for what I did next.

I decided to send Tim an anonymous postcard for his birthday, quoting “Unhappy Birthday” by The Smiths. I don’t think I went as all-out creepy as to make it look like a ransom note, I think I typed the lyrics (which I’d gauge as only medium creepy). But then I had a pen pal who lived in another state mail the postcard so Tim wouldn’t suspect it came from me in NYC (which probably takes us back up to all-out creepy). Who knows, maybe Katie never mailed the thing and Tim never received my ill wishes. Or maybe he did and laughed it off, since he was used to mean-spiritedness from living in a backwoods, small-minded town.

Either way, I feel terrible about it to this day and even worse that I would be so flippant about suicide and his possible death. But he has a profile on Facebook, so at least I can rest easy knowing he wasn’t driven to off himself by an anonymous nasty postcard. And who knows, maybe my crush on Tim was obvious and made him uncomfortable. Maybe after the visit he had enough of me, or maybe his girlfriend wasn’t cool with the correspondence (Because he kinda had a crush on me too? Haha, yeah, right.). Whatever the reason, I like to think I’m a bit more easygoing about that sort of thing nowadays. Or at least less vindictive (and yes, creepy).       

At least I wasn’t feeling such vitriol towards Brad (with whom I had the meet-cute encounter the day after my 18th birthday). There was plenty of time to set unrealistic expectations and end up disappointed on that front…

[November, 1995] The Transformation is Complete


Just called Anita for about 30 seconds (well that’s how long we spoke) so she could talk me out of going to Record Rabbit tomorrow. As of today it’s been 12 days since my last visit (I really wanted to go last week but Anita’s right about making him wait). I think my feelings for him were even starting to slowly recede and then all of a sudden they came back. I try not to let it overwhelm me and I look for distractions where I can.

I finally met my penpal (well since we’ve spoken on the phone too I guess he’s more of a friend) Arthur and he was really nice (gave me a friendly hug). Wide Awake in America/The Joshua Tree. I’m leaning more toward The Joshua Tree.



Dyed my hair black. Blue-Black actually. Very different. I love it. Had it done in a salon and it looks great.

Dave (Dolan, the only Dave I talk about—I think) called tonight. It was good to hear from him.  Spoke to Darby this past weekend too and we had a nice chat. An odd friendship the two of us have, though we were much less obnoxious to each other during this last conversation.

I want to be in college already. I want to be out of here.

I want to sleep. I think I should try for some now because I am in a very bad mood suddenly.

I can’t wait until I’m done writing in this notebook because I got a nicer smaller one that I’ll start as my next journal (yes I guess I’m back to keeping journals. At least I’ve begun to put down things other than why life sucks for me, why I’m upset or other angsty teenage bullshit).

God I hope I don’t have trouble falling asleep.

I’m not proud of this, but I did play my parents to get the black hair. I initially asked my mom if I could dye it black and she said no. But it was my father took me to the salon for a trim. As soon as we got there I begged and begged him to let me color it and he finally relented. Prior to that I had waist-length dirty blond hair, so it was a dramatic change. When Mom first saw me, she sarcastically asked, “where is my daughter?” but didn’t make a fuss beyond that.

All things considered, actually a pretty good album. I gave it a bad rap back in the day.

All things considered, actually a pretty good album. I gave it a bad rap back in the day.

As for the pen pal, Arthur, I didn’t keep in touch with him much after meeting. Deep down I’m sure I was hoping there’d be a romantic connection, despite my crush on Nathan, but there wasn’t. I’d bet money that my mopiness at the time was due at least in part to that lack of spark. And the U2 albums is more teenage code. I think I was ranking him by how much I liked the album I was comparing him to. My favorite was Achtung Baby, followed by either Boy or Zooropa, so any guy classified as one of those three would have been a top crush contender. However, The Joshua Tree was somewhere in the middle and Wide Awake in America below that, so I probably was only mildly attracted to him. It could have been worse, he could have been October (my least favorite U2 album at the time).

The mentions of the other friends and sudden depression could have been the usual insecurity and mood swings I had at the time, or a symptom of some family conflict I didn’t want to put to paper. There was often parental drama in the background of my teen years, though I very rarely wrote about it. In any event, the black hair signaled another change in me, one that fit with the darker music I was listening to. Much as I may have hemmed and hawed being goth up until then, now it was undeniable.

[August, 1995] Bite Me


I sure suck for neglecting this thing so much. It sort of makes sense, though, because if my life is proceeding in a cool way and I’m doing a lot, keeping busy, etc. I should not have a shitload of free time to write down what I do/think/feel. And the more time I do have to write things down, then obviously the less interesting my life is and the more boring what I write is going to be. Sheesh. Still, I do have some stuff to talk about.

If you're looking for a bleak mode of travel, you found it!

If you’re looking for a bleak mode of travel, you found it!

My visit with Tim, for one thing. Of course now that I’ve told the story so many times—to friends and penpals—I will be reduced to a brief summary. Oh well. It was cool, we got along (his friends Lana, Leslie and Lanie—the latter being the girlfriend—were also really nice). I love his stereo, Disintegration sounds too gorgeous on it. We saw the Cure Picture Show (lovely video). Greyhound busses were the transportation. Was hit on during both rides (by an attractive 30-year-old going there and an unattractive 16-year-old coming home). I’m tired. Will end with a quote.

“You tore the make-up from my face
With every acid word you ever knew
Now every line and crack exposed
Exploited fully with each scar shone through.” –Moist

This was a strange and frustrating trip. I don’t know what I expected from Tim (some background on Tim here and here), knowing he had a girlfriend. In retrospect, it must have been odd for this girl from New York to offer to visit him several hours away, for 24 hours. Maybe he accepted the offer out of politeness, maybe out of boredom, or curiosity, or a combination of all the above. In any case, the visit itself was lackluster. All I remember of the town itself was a diner and a record store. All I remember about his house is the sloping roof of his dark room and his amazing stereo system. The details that stand out about Tim in person are that he was nicer and less angry than in his letters, he had attractive bright blue eyes but an unattractive receding chin.

 The two parts of the trip that stick with me to this day are: 1. The 30-year-old who flirted with me on the ride there. 2. The mosquito bites I got from sleeping in Tim’s room. 

To expand on that… 

1. To this day, I don’t think I had ever been flirted with quite as aggressively as I was on that outgoing bus ride. The guy was nearly twice my age but believed me when I told him I was in my early 20’s. He was cute in an average way: brown eyes and hair, slightly receding hairline, slender. I was nervous about travelling hundreds of miles by myself and was initially suspicious of this guy, but his friendly charm put me at ease a little bit, though I never fully let down my guard. He was on his way to Reno to start a new job and was afraid of flying, so he decided to travel cross-country via Greyhound Bus. I warmed up to him during the 3-4 hour trip, letting him hold my hand and even kiss me goodbye. He gave me his number in Reno and his calling card number so that I didn’t have to spend money calling him long distance. I thought it was remarkable that he trusted me not to make any other calls using his card, but I never used either number.

2. Todd had a screen on his bedroom window, but there must have been a massive hole in it, because I was eaten alive by insects while I slept. When I got home the next day, I counted the mosquito bites in the shower and I swear there were over 60. I was itchy and uncomfortable for a good week.

For all the effort and frustration, was the trip worth it? For anecdotal purposes, I guess so. Kind of.


[June, 1995] Carnival and Catherine Wheel

January 26, 2014 2 comments


Wow, I almost felt like I was starting a letter (I must comment on how annoyed I am that I haven’t gotten any real letters in a while. I just know I’ll get about 8 in the same day). But now isn’t the time to be sarcastic because it was a beautiful day. Carnival was great even though all I did was sit there and talk and sign people’s yearbooks and sit there trying not to melt under the sun. It was great.

There is a strong possibility that I first owned this album on cassette.

There is a strong possibility that I first owned this album on cassette.

Then (w/Anita) on to Tower Records in the village to see a free concert by Catherine Wheel. Very good they were*, bought the album then & there (I love the single “Waydown” so much, I wouldn’t mind if it was that song over and over). Got yet another set list which was signed by all the band members this time (very nice people, a British band).

For anyone joining the game late, I was a big penpal nerd in the ’90s and continued to be so in my later high school years (I’ll spare you additional gushing about how superior paper letters were to electronic correspondence—this time!—and direct you to this earlier blog post for more background). Inevitably, no matter how I tried to space out my letter-writing, I’d usually get responses in bulk, despite the letters coming from all over the world.

Carnival was an annual event that I imagine most schools have a version of (booths with games, food, etc.) so I’ll spare you details, but mostly because that particular year I didn’t do much more than “sit there” and call it “great” (can’t you tell I was an aspiring writer from that vivid description alone?).

Before delving into the show itself, a note for the younger readers: once upon a time there were these places called “record stores” where they sold music in physical form, on vinyl, cassette and these small plastic discs called CDs. Some of these larger shops, like Tower Records, hosted musical artists from time to time to do in-store signings, and sometimes the bands would also perform a 20-minute mini-concert to promote their latest album. 

Anita and I had a previous adventure in New Jersey seeing Sponge at a different Tower Records, but it was nice to be able to attend another in-store closer to home.

Somehow this photo of Catherine Wheel manages to look both extremely spontaneous and staged.

Somehow this photo of Catherine Wheel manages to look both extremely spontaneous and also staged.

To this day, Catherine Wheel is one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen. For those unfamiliar, their sound is a shoegaze/rock mix with a dash of dirty guitars (I initially wrote “grunge” but couldn’t live myself for labeling them that way). They also sounded better in person than they did on any of their albums (one of the few bands I could say the same for is Pearl Jam).

Catherine Wheel had some brief MTV success with the single for “Waydown” but never made it really big like—Radiohead big. (Fun fact: lead singer Rob Dickinson is the cousin of Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson.)

It’s a shame they weren’t able to find a wider audience, because I think they put out of lot of solid music and put on great concerts. And while it was nice to see them perform at smaller venues, they deserved more wide-spread attention and success than they ever received. The album I bought referenced in this entry, Happy Days, is pretty good, but Chrome and Adam and Eve are even better and some of the most underrated music to come out of the 1990s.

* No idea why I decided to sound like Yoda there.

[April, 1995] Goth-in-Training

Yes and yes.

Yes and yes.


I did not go to sleep last night. Finished my Nabakov paper at 4:00, read until 5:30. Had two cups of coffee this morning, will have a couple more with lunch.

Back home, everything is so messy but comfortable.

Anita and I are just itching to go to the Village soon. Must get old Cure, Cocteau Twins! I always forget about the Cocteau Twins. Have to (want to) make a tape for Tim. Anita ate in a Denny’s 20 or 30 miles from Clarion*, the rednecks scared her lots.

I want this year to be over. And next year too. My procrastination problem is not good for Junior year.

If I can’t get the year to be over, I’ll settle for this class to be over. I never stayed up all night. Almost felt reborn, which was pretty cool/strange. Things started wavering in front of me though which wasn’t too great.

I’m hooked on Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride, it’s fun to read about havoc being wreaked.

I’ll be honest, some of my later teen journal entries could probably be paraphrased as “blah blah music blah blah boys blah blah pretentious stuff blah blah.” Between the various literary and music references and comparing staying up all night to being “reborn,” I was one turtleneck and Fellini dissertation away from getting the gold in Competitive Pretentiousness. I’d like to say that future entries won’t be like this, but that would be a lie. As my thoughts get “deeper” and my tastes get darker and more (sometimes-) obscure, the pretentious factor is sure to rise. Remember, these are the musings of someone on the verge of becoming a goth: consider yourself duly warned.

Not all, or even half, but at least a small part of these gothic inklings could be credited to Tim (previously mentioned here and here, a pen pal (who I found through a friendship book) living in a small, narrow-minded town in Pennsylvania. He was depressed, angry, cute and had great music taste: a combination that would prove emotionally lethal for many years to come. He included his phone number in an early letter and, after calling him on a whim and talking for nearly two hours (documented in a journal entry dated a week prior to this one; trust me, you’re not missing anything), my crush was cemented.  

...for what ails you

…for what ails you

The Cure and Cocteau Twins were two of Tim’s favorite bands, which he included in a mix tape for me (this is where I could go on and on about the wonder and sad departure of the mix tape, but I’ll spare you… this time). I was already familiar with some Cure, but not their colossally depressing earlier work (soon, fledgling goth, soon). Between the haunting music and the source of the mix tape from which it originated, it was no wonder I was keen to get more of their albums. Sure, it was partly to have more in common with my crush, but he did help me develop my love for these two bands. (To be fair, he also liked other bands, like Sugar, that never did it for me, so it wasn’t purely about impressing him. Only partly.)

Tim often complained of Clarion* being a hick town, where he was mocked and bullied and accused of being gay because of the way he dressed (lots of black) and wore his hair (longer than what was acceptable in those parts). I was lucky that my own days of being bullied were behind me and to be in New York City where my freak flag could fly more freely. I would be unfurling and waving that flag around quite a bit in the coming years.

* Not the actual town name.

[December, 1994] WDRE and G.O.D.


“See faces frozen still against the wind” – U2

Ellis Island was not the huge bore I expected it to be. Mom and I had an… interesting train adventure on the way back. The blind leading the blind.

“Glitter Over Disintegration” is the title I decided upon. I made it an acronym on purpose (sort of). This one moved along fairly quickly. It’s relieving to know I can write outside of life experiences.

Anita and I have already scheduled our first trip to the Village, this Friday. I want these next 4 days to be over with more than anything. Anita heard that Larry Mullen Jnr was at the DRE acoustic Christmas concert. It’s a little frustrating, yes, but it just wasn’t meant to be, like with the backstage passes.

I’m in the process of dying my hair (reddish-blond, so the box says). “That tingly feeling means it’s working.”

“Destiny protect me from the world” – Radiohead (one of the bands at the DRE thing)

WDRE was a fantastic radio station based out of Long Island that used to be known as WLIR. It was known as the listening destination for alternative music, but balanced the more popular bands at the time like Green Day, Pearl Jam, and Stone Temple Pilots with 80’s alternative that was rarely heard on other stations, like The Smiths, early Cure, and Madness. Back in the day, radio stations used to give out concert tickets, usually to the caller that corresponded to the station’s ID (i.e. Z100 awarded its 100th caller). I wore out my phone’s redial button trying to win all kinds of tickets, but unfortunately, I was never lucky when it came to shows I really wanted to see, like the DRE Christmas concert. Instead, I won tickets for artists/bands I had no interest in, like Barenaked Ladies and Paul Weller. In fact, I won Paul Weller tickets twice and didn’t go to the show either time. I listened to DRE in the last years of its heyday, because a couple of years later it switched format to adult contemporary, which made me pretty much give up on radio.

boat trip, anyone?

 “Glitter Over Disintegration” was about a couple, Rob and Tera, trying to have a picnic on a boat, except for the threat of “shadows” which periodically appear to Rob and slowly drain his humanity. It was my none-too-subtle metaphor for depression. Here’s an excerpt from the last page:

I sank my teeth into my lip to hold back the rising bile and hysteria. Each time the shadows came they took a little bit more of Rob, leaving me with less to look after. I hated compensating for this gradual annihilation.

I reached my arm out but he wouldn’t let me touch him. The gnawing of my frustrated teeth cracked open my thin skin and blood poured over my lip and chin, leaving both wet and sticky. I sat back and lifted my tired eyes when—

It was as if ink was slowly staining the sky, pretty blue being eaten by darkness. The trees shriveled, becoming ash, and the water coagulated into murky gelatinous lumps. The boat spiraled into different directions, pieces of it chipping off and flying into the blackness. I started to scream then abruptly stopped when Rob took my hand. The sadness in his soft face became a resigned fear as he placed his other hand around our wrists.

We kissed as the pandemonium crashed down on us.

Reading that last line so many years later makes me chuckle at all the intense drama I was trying to invoke.

The story was inspired by Tim Wunderlich, a pen pal whose acquaintance I made via a friendship book. Tim was an alternative kid living in a small town full of people who were intolerant of him. Whether it was circumstance, biology or a bit of both, Tim had some pretty intense depressive episodes. His negative rants at the world worried me, but also added to his mystique. And also made me determined (let’s say it all together now) to be the one to save him.  Of course, sometimes my optimism just couldn’t withstand his pessimism and his letters left me depressed, but the good kind of depressed where I was able to channel it into fiction, even if it does read more than a bit melodramatic today.