The summer of 1992 continued. Thanks to my good friend, Sally, I had found a worthwhile job working at The Bin, a nonprofit Natural Foods Store that trained mentally and physically handicapped adults basic jobs skills; a stepping stone in preparing them for the real world. Little did I know that this job would be my own stepping stone into the real world. Although my intention was to stick around northeast Ohio until the fall and then move to Los Angeles, I met my future wife, a fellow employee, while working at The Bin. Our love altered my plans, delaying the western move for a year and a half.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As I’ve written previously, 1992 was a year of change in politics, film and especially music. Alternative became the new mainstream and radio stations reflecting this new trend began popping up across the country, even in blue collar Cleveland. At that time, Cleveland’s alternative station was WENZ – The End. While they certainly played the popular tracks by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chili Peppers, the station’s play list featured nuggets from the neo-folk movement, plenty of 80’s underground bands, and many of the 120 Minutes bands heard in the early 90’s. One such artist was Matthew Sweet, whose driving power chords and crisp harmonies were a power pop aficionado’s wet dream.
Sweet’s breakthrough song, “Girlfriend,” became a hit in part thanks to its video featuring clips from the anime series, Space Adventure Cobra. During my final semester at Bowling Green, that ultra cool video is what initially opened my eyes to “Girlfriend,” especially in the wee hours of the morning. It didn’t take long for the killer guitar hook and the kick ass drum part by Fred Maher to reel me in (especially that drum break at the end- I mean, come on!). Soon, I had the song cranked up each time it came on the radio and pounded the drum part of the steering wheel of my red Horizon as I drove. Hearing “Girlfriend” that summer, together with Sweet’s other single, “I’ve Been Waiting,” gave the season a poppy sheen- hopeful and full of optimism. What more could you ask for right after college graduation?
The job at the Bin was physical, lifting boxes and crates of fresh produce and moving heavy objects around in the large, walk in cooler. The job also required a lot of patience in the repetitiveness of instructing the clients. It was a rewarding experience made better by my co-workers, a great group of individuals. Among them was a woman introduced to me one Wednesday morning: Julie Flynn.
With bright, blue eyes and short, curly hair, she was unlike any woman I had ever met. Her beauty was one of a kind with one of those smiles that lit up a room. Whenever we worked together, which was only a couple of times a week, I always found myself completely at ease with Julie; comfortable. The universe was at play. However, I’d decided that I wouldn’t get involved with anyone, choosing to remain single until after I relocated to California. I’d just come out of a two year relationship, somewhat wounded. The universe may have been at play, but I was showing resistance. I was committed to my plan, no matter how lonely I may have become.
In early June, I made plans to head down to Athens, Ohio to visit to my best friend, Matt, at Ohio University. With his impending graduation, this would turn out to be my last visit to OU and the liberal campus life of Matt and his friends. I would leave on Saturday, after work, and return the following Monday (my day off), hopefully clear headed to open the store Tuesday morning. That Friday morning my mom phoned me at The Bin. With worry and a touch of exasperation in her voice, she told me, “Your father is in the hospital.” He’d been at school and someone thought he looked extremely pale, ill. Although he felt okay, upon their insistence my dad went to see his doctor, who admitted him into the hospital immediately. A ripple of fear went through me. My family has a history of heart problems and my father had been under a great deal of stress the past couple of months, what with his father passing away, one song graduating, a daughter still in college, and another son about the get married. I assumed the worst.
My mom threw out a slew of medical terms that flew over my spinning head. What the hell was a heart catheterization? BP? Oxygen levels? I went to see him in the hospital that night and both of my parents were sure that everything would be fine. They insisted that I shouldn’t cancel my plans to go see Matt. And so, I left work on Saturday afternoon and drove four hours to Athens from North Olmsted for a weekend of stupidity and lost brain cells. To block out the concern I had, I blasted the alternative rock until the Cleveland radio station crackled and disappeared. After that it was mix tapes blaring from my boombox resting on the passenger seat.
After arriving in Athens, Matt and I wound up in a bar and were surprised to see our friend, Sally, sitting there. She was also in town visiting friends. I would quickly discover that the universe was still trying to guide in a certain direction. Seeing Sally in the bar gave me comfort. “Someone I know!” I thought, always feeling like the outsider when hanging with Mat and his college pals.
The three of us drank a lot and discussed the future. I told her about the heartbreak of my college relationship; I told her I wasn’t going to date anyone until I moved to California. She laughed, thinking I should keep my heart open for love. “What you need is to date someone nice; someone like that Julie Flynn.” I was kind of surprised. Julie Flynn, from the Bin? Sally went on to tell me how nice and wonderful Julie was and that if I asked her out, she would most definitely say yes. Sally may have even said that Julie thought I was cute, but that may be my ego imagining things. A seed had been planted.
The following morning Matt, his friend, and I went to see The Rapture, Michael Tolkin’s film about faith and the apocalypse starring Mimi Rogers. Afterward we discussed the meaning of the movie over fountain Cokes and cigarettes. We thought we were enlightened. We were just young. The weekend visit came to an end and I started my drive home in my red Horizon, scanning the radio dial, looking for another station that would play me anything besides the classic rock or hair metal I had grown sick of hearing. I spent the four hour return trip home thinking about a script I wanted to write, and thinking that maybe I would ask out that Julie Flynn. I mean, what harm could come from a couple of friendly dates? I was still moving in the fall; it’s not like I was going to get serious.
Any plans of asking out Julie were tabled after I got home and learned that my Dad would require life saving open-heart surgery.