You smile and think how much you’ve changed

Back in the day, I remember singing lyrics to, This is the Day, by The The?:

Well you didn’t wake up this morning ’cause you didn’t go to bed
You were watching the whites of your eyes turn red
The calendar on your wall was ticking the days off
You’ve been reading some old letters
You smile and think how much you’ve changed
All the money in the world couldn’t buy back those days was sweet.
…life was sweet.

Always loved the song, but many years ago, when I listened to that CD over and over again, I was so happy with the moment that I was in. I had no idea that I was changing, or ever would. I had a leather jacket that I swore I would probably go with me to my cremation. Everything seemed perfect … down to the leftover carry-out food that was in my refrigerator. I figured I would stay pretty much the same. Never a smile after reading old letters. Never feeling older. Always being me.

This week, after a half day of work, the photographer who I just wrapped the job with suggested we go have lunch. Neither of us were familiar with the area, so we relied on Yelp for suggestions. A name, “Fuel Cafe” popped out of the list.

I said, “Let’s go, I’ve heard good things about this place.”

So, he drove and we went through this really nasty hood. We saw Frankenstein houses with busted out windows and bad paint jobs. Gym shoes over wires. Ferocious looking dogs taking giant shits that super rats ate. I didn’t see any pretty little lap dogs, or white fences. We were just about to figure out plan B when the sign to the cafe came into our vantage point. There was a house a few away from the cafe that had a taxidermy  black bear in the branch of a tree. I was terrified. But it was also Wisconsin. What did I expect?

“Ummm, we can totally go someplace else,” I said.

“No, Let’s check this place out,” said my lunch buddy.

Great, I thought… I wasn’t wearing my bullet proof vest and the place looked gross. Inside, it was raw. Posters of motorcycles were everywhere. I am not a fan of “theme” based eateries. They remind me of something that should be at an amusement park. The clientele was indie-rock-style. The coffee sipping crowd was adorned with dreadlocks or hipster cropped hair. Everyone had a tattoo, smelled of cigarettes and obviously loved the obscure music that was cranked to eleven. I was self conscience in my dirty North Face coat and felt alone with my nothing-cool-about-me. Where was my hand knit scarf (that my mommy made me)? By trying so little, I stood out like an asshole yuppie. I was an impostor in a mecca of cool that I didn’t quite understand. At this place, the cashier could have worn a vintage swim cap with plastic flowers stuck to her head and been taken more seriously than me.

Ordering lunch was like a job interview where I had no idea about the right answer. The waitress burned a look into me and turned my head into a pink, glitter, Halloween skull. Telepathically she was saying, “You are so fired!”

I figured a veggie sandwich with a down and dirty latte would be the ticket. The food was good. Coffee “Fuel” worthy. My blood sugar level suggested I relax. Taking the whole experience in with a full belly, I realized that the reason I felt so uncomfortable was that I HAD CHANGED! Twenty years ago, this place called Fuel would have been my scene. I would have loved the place and brought my parents there for a veggie sandwich birthday dinner! What was going on???? Nowadays, birthday dinners are extra fancy fare like oysters and pork belly!

I looked over at the girl behind the coffee counter and realized that twenty something years ago, I WAS THAT GIRL. It was odd to remember that I worked at cafes, where I used to know how to make the fuck out of a cappuccino. I probably even wore a vintage  bathing cap to work. That wasn’t weird! Once upon a time, I had no idea what it was like shopping retail. I even bought soap at the Village Thrift.

My lunch friend and I had a lot of fun. We even bought t-shirts and I laughed to myself thinking we were such tourists. I had to leave with some trinket that I found from my trip to the way back time machine. So glad I had those days … yesterday. I loved that old me, but now I realize that I have grown and it just is. Still, it’s good to remember what it was like to be a little raw around the edges … an easy cool that just happened. Something about that foundation makes today very solid. Cause, I don’t want to go back to the past … well maybe for a another t-shirt and some coffee.

You could have done anything, if you wanted
And all your friends and family think that you’re lucky
But the side of you they’ll never see
Is when you’re left alone with your memories
That hold your life together, like glue


The New Year year won’t hurt a bit

This year, I resolve to stop fucking with people, not to fall asleep in public, and to be a lady. (Deep Breath) This will require that I stop yelling to my favorite bartender, “Hey, fat black man, bring me another!” (He actually enjoys this. His name is Anthony, and everyone tells him he looks like the fat black guy from SNL.)

I will end my ruse of pretending to be an actress. So, I’ll have to stop LYING and claiming that my most recent role is the Emmy-winning scene where I portray a sad lady, walking across a bridge in an Alzheimer’s commercial.

I will not engage all the people who email with promises of wiring me money. I will stop giving these people a contact number so that I can negotiate my terms … and that I plan to fly in to wherever the money is. I won’t tell them I’m gluten-free, so they better have proper food, or that I require copious amount of alcohol or else I shake. I won’t tell them that there had better be a limo waiting for me at the airport. And no guns, spears, or lightsabers. The money should be unmarked and not smell funny. I promise I won’t tell them any of this ever again.

I won’t fall asleep at the House of Blues, or on Michelle’s bathroom floor (not that I ever sunk so low).

Instead, I’ll lose weight. I vow to end the cheeseburger diet and work out a little. I will not exercise  with a bloody mary in my hand. I’m going to have friends over for a gumbo party and all they will talk about is my skinny ass and cute outfit. I will stand back and eavesdrop on my party and see them talking in slow motion about my flat stomach. Although I won’t eat for a week prior to the party, on that day, I’ll gobble it down. They will wonder where I put it.

I’m going to go someplace in my car that requires driving a couple of hours (a big deal because I hate to drive) I won’t honk my horn during the drive, or yell, “DOUCH BAG” because I will drive like a lady. I will not flip-off my husband, or make fun of crying babies. (I’ll give you something to cry about), I will stop thinking evil thoughts about Packers fans. I will be an extra-Slacky Hipster and put a little fun in your dull pathetic life.

Have a hell of a happy New Year and if you are on the pulse of hip, you will be at a pajama party getting trashed. C U in 2012!

[note- I fully expect to fail at all of these resolutions … especially the Packers thing.]

The Rock

The night that my father died, I had a dream that I was having a verbal arm wrestle with Keith Richards. It didn’t make any sense that my Dad, Kevin James Butler was gone and Keith was hanging out stoned off his gourd. In the dream, I was in Keith’s kitchen, watching him prepare bangers-and-mash. I was like, “Keith, you have such a polluted body! Why on earth are you still alive?”

He shrugged his shoulders in a “you bore me” kind of way, and continued to cook. Cockroach!

My Dad may never have been a Rolling Stone, but he sure did instill the value of a good party. He loved his cigarettes, whiskey, and Guinness. He played his music loud, drove his Corvette fast and sought out taco shacks like he was looking for gold. He was a jock, a hippie, politically well voiced … to the point of being sometimes rowdy! He loved to cook (and man! could he cook) and his guests were always members of the clean plate club. He was handy, mechanical, great at math, incredibly well read. He was macho, crabby and didn’t take no shit. The man was like Rambo. I guess that’s why I found it somewhat incredulous that my Dad would die of lung cancer, less than a year after being diagnosed with this very fuck-you illness.

My Dad did stuff that good Dads do. My parents were great when I was growing up. We went camping, fishing, took road trips, played frisbee and fun games, watched the fireworks on the roof of our house, hung out in the car and pretended to be truck drivers and talked on a CB radio. We made “science projects” like putting a balloon on top of a Coca Cola bottle and watching as the carbonation filled the balloon. Dad taught me about planting a vegetable garden and because of this I loved vegetables from an early age. He took care of me when I had kidney surgery as a toddler. He took care of me when I was 30 years old and broke my ankle. He took care of me when my heart was broken.

The first lesson that I learned from Dad: “Everyone does bad stuff. You either got to be a good liar and never get caught doing something wrong, or just be good all the time. Do what you want, but if I catch you doing something bad, I’m going to punish you, so figure it out.”

I was eight years old and wondered, do I go through life with an Angel or a Devil guiding my path? Perhaps, an instinctive combination is the answer. It sure was his.

I learned this lesson when I was around eight years old and trashed an abandoned house. I made a really cool fort off the back deck. I believe this crime may have foreshadowed that I would later add Prop Stylist to my résumé. I was proud of my home improvement and when I went back home, I excitedly watched as Dad parked his big pick-up truck in the driveway. I couldn’t wait to show and tell him about my rehab.

Let’s just say, my Dad went a little nuts! Plus, I ratted out a friend who helped in the construction and really felt kicked to the curb when I was sent to my bedroom. Another thing, my Dad never liked a tattle tale … he didn’t trust them. I could tell that Dad was like, does my kid eat glue? Did she get in line for the idiot brain? Every good-natured Irish family knows about tom-foolery. We all know when to stop telling the truth. I learned that honesty can ruin lives, crush hearts, and make life even more hell. I learned that if I was stupid enough to do something bad, I better keep the lid on it, unless harm would result from the act.

Me and Dad, on my wedding day in Costa Rica.

My Dad was relieved that I fessed up to vandalizing a home, but uncertain why I would think that it was okay.

I’m a terrible, terrible liar. I always smirk, or giggle … a bad poker face!  Much to my husband’s chagrin, I do S T R E T C H the truth (which is totally legal). He gets stuck listening to me spin the malarkey and remarks, “Erin, that’s really not how it happened.”

Yes it is, because in my world it’s all better. And my Dad said so!

Lesson # 2. Kevin was the oldest of eight kids. He learned fast that it’s about survival. When groceries were delivered, the boy with the bags was attacked … bananas and bread flying … the kids were battling and on the run with a burger and a bun! So Dad went to work pretty young and instilled in me a great work ethic. Give your work respect and it will respect you back.

He went on the be a successful electrician and was general foreman of several high stress jobs. I can remember watching America’s Most Wanted and he said, ” I work with guys like this … not all of em, but there’s a select few who are criminals.”

So strange. I thought of me going to work … walking into a photo studio smelling of bacon. My work space was warm in the winter, chill in summer. I worked with super cool people, models, dogs and babies. No one was wanted for anything but a hug. Everyone is happy and, how doodle-lee-doo. Most are highly drugged, but regardless, warm and fuzzy!

My Dad  started work way too early, walked on the exposed beams of unfinished skyscrapers, and was hit with the worst the elements could throw at him. He took good care of his family and worked like a dog. I was never spoiled, but my Dad took care of me. He made sure that I was safe. He also made sure that I knew nothing is a hand out, so I too started to work very young. Too bad if I was an only child, he wasn’t about to buy me an Izod polo that I would out grow out of in a week.

But he did spoil me in a sweet Daddy way. Lesson # 3, Be nice or leave! Visits for dinner were always a culinary dream. He volunteered at an organic farm and loved playing the role of extreme foodie. He found out about books and music that I liked and would surprise me with a present. When I would leave my parents house, he would have filled my car with gas, give me a hug good-bye, lean into the car and hold up a $50 bill and say, “Look what ya lost in your car!  See ya later kid, I love you!”

So much more to say about this great big man …what a character, but now I’ll wipe another tear from my eye, and say, “Right back at ya Dad…you rocked!”

Rest in Peace.

Confession of a cheese slut

I was raised with the motto: “We’ll be fine as long as we have each other and our snacks“. Yes, I have high cholesterol, but that won’t stop me from making my life more delicious! I’m going to blame this all on my DNA. I simply can’t stop my cheese and cracker cravings because my body requires them to stay alive. To think, there are people who HATE CHEESE. These folks probably eat boring, nutritious things like apples. I can’t change my addiction. Frankly, it’s an illness.

Gather around in a circle, pour a glass of wine and I’ll confess. I’ve spoiled my appetite … skipped dinner and grazed on a triple cream wedge of brie. It’s true that I’ve left cheese unrefrigerated overnight and decided it would be just fine to eat the next day. I’ve overdosed on free cheese samples at the grocery store.

Big surprise, I’ve  dropped cheese on the dirty kitchen floor and honored the five second rule. I’ve loved cheese that’s beneath me…like a tub of Merkts. And yes, I feel dirty, but it feels good to finally come clean.

I’ll blame my Grandpa because he influenced my snack habit. He probably should have served time for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. As a kid, I spent a lot of Friday nights at my  grandparents house. My parents were busy smoking pot and making macramé curtains (I’M KIDDING MOM AND DAD, “PIPE” DOWN). Anyhow, I have very fond memories of my slumber parties. First off, Gramps and I would boogie on over to McDonald’s where we would order food, “to travel.”

“SHHH, don’t tell Grandma,” he would say as he pulled an extra bag of  fries from the bag to snack on during the two block drive home. I thought this was super cool. What kid doesn’t want to live on french fries?

Later, we would watch old westerns or Lassie or The Carol Burnett Show. My Grandparents lived in a cozy house in Glynn Ellyn, Il. The TV room had a built-in bed with cedar drawers that were filled with hand knit blankets. I would build myself a fort in this bed and Grandpa would sit next to me smoking cigars and drinking beer. A TV tray was in front of his lap. He drank beer out of a short glass and would fill a shot glass up with beer, topped by a sprinkle of salt. That was my little cocktail. We would eat cheese from Wisconsin and later, he would make a frozen pizza. Talk about perfect! I never wanted to grow up.

In life, we associate things with positive or negative experience. I will never drink gin because it just took one gin-hangover to realize that’s not my cocktail. I can’t even smell gin without feeling dizzy. Cheese will always feel and taste like love, a little vacation, and just yummy.

The proper way to eat Époisses at a party:

Here are some of my favorites…try looking at TJ’s or WF:

Saint André




Dill Harvarti


Sharp Cheddar

Merkts, Beer Cheese

Call me a name dropper, see if I care

Sitting on a curb in front of the elegant driveway at the Park Hyatt in Chicago, I waited for the valet attendant to fetch my jalopy.  I was driving an old beat up Ford Escort and clearly didn’t fit in with the chic hotel clientele.  The attendant had probably parked my car illegally outside Cabrini Green, realizing he wasn’t getting a tip. Judging by the time it was taking to deliver my old Betsy, I was going to be loafing around a long while.

Yvette Dostatni catches me on the fly.

It was early on a Saturday morning and I had just finished a side gig—styling for Shape magazine.  I was tired, holding a tool box that had an IN-N-OUT bumper sticker on the lid, perched next to my professional clothing steamer. A few snobs raised their high brows and looked at me with suspicion.  All except for one, who was clearly curious about what I was up to…

I styled this woman's shoulders at the Park Hyatt spa. Tough gig, but someone's gotta do it.

Jaime Lee Curtis stood next to me, beaming and waving to fans who yelled things like, “we just love your books Jaime!” Yep, that was her. I quickly shot her a nonchalant glance and took note that she was wearing black hush puppy shoes and a smart black suit.

I was too tired to be interested in a celebrity and this probably annoyed Curtis. “What are you doing?” she asked me, in a way like she was interested. Not like, “What the hell are you doing polluting my day girl? And why aren’t you asking for my autograph? Are you stuck up, because you are making me feel like a hack.

I was shocked that she would acknowledge me, a commoner. I instantly looked at her and flashed back to her scene in the movie Trading Places where she flashed her perfect, naked rack. I thought, “I know way too much about you lady, and yet nothing at all.

“I’m waiting for my car (I said this like “caviar“). I just finished working on a photo shoot for Shape magazine.  I have been working as a wardrobe stylist for a woman who has been slowly loosing weight over the past year.”

“REALLY?!  Are you having fun?” she asked.

I admitted to my madness and said that I was. Finally, my car pulled up looking more ratty and scuffed up than I remembered. I got up and handed the valet his 50 cent tip. Curtis, seemed genuinely sad that I was leaving so soon. “Can I help you put your gear in the car?” she asked.

I said, “No.” and that was it, except that it shouldn’t have been.

Would you be my BFF?

What was I thinking? Opportunity was knocking at my car keyed Escort door! Stupid, stupid, stupid!  There was no turning back, I was off driving down Chicago Ave, towards Cabrini Green realizing I could have been looking at a terra cotta sunset in Beverly Hills if only I’d played my deck right.  I could have been BFF with Jaimie and worked as her personal stylist.  She would introduce me to all her fat cat friends who would all adore me and think that my tool box with the, IN-N-OUT bumper sticker was so cute.  They would ask me to get them cheeseburgers on the sly, and I would.  I would have become fantastic and stuffed my mattress with money.

Instead, Curtis stood waving to me with her thin princess hand and ate my dust.

Glorified Bag Lady

My friend, John Wagner and I where hanging out at some dive bar in Chicago when we had an ahh-ha moment! Together, we were dreaming big. Although I had no clear direction in life, John had focus. He was making some tall cash as a photographer. So while he bought all my drinks and bragged about his sexy life, I realized that I was pathetic and if it weren’t for my big boobs, he probably would have kicked me off the bar stool. I was 25 years old and felt like retiring.

We considered my options…Gold digging was out…right up there with prostitution.  I had no mechanical skills, so I knew I’d never make it as a boat repairman. I’m afraid of heights, so I couldn’t wash windows. I have stage fright, so I couldn’t become an understudy to Susan Lucci. Guns scare me so bank robbery was out. Digging a ditch would make me sweaty and professional skiing, well that was out of the question. Just when I thought I was an occupatioal hazard, John said, “Well, you’d be a great stylist but it’s kind of like being a glorified bag lady.”

BINGO! or, BOO-YA … whatever!

Photo of me by John Wagner, 1992.

It seemed to be a perfect fit.  A fit that felt like I could eat chocolate and still loose weight.  I’ve gotta say, I love me back then because I just thought, “Heck yeah, sign me up!”  Sometimes it’s good to go into things blind, stupid and way retarded!  Being dumb adds a dimension of confidence to personality.  Not understanding the dark side of an occupation can launch your career!  For example, I thought that photo styling was going  to be easy. I mean I was always the girl who was wearing the coolest earrings at a party. Wasn’t this just about Cadillac taste?

No, you retard, it’s not! (BTW, I say this to annoy Sarah Palin.)

So I flipped through Elle magazine and thought, “I can do this!  I can take a Louis Vuitton bag, throw it on a beach in the South of France, tie a scarf to the handle, lay a ten thousand dollar spike-heeled pump next to the purse, and playfully arrange cosmetics while my assistant fetches me decadent food, I loose weight and the Rolling Sones would watch me working through binoculars from their boat and get tears in their eyes because they are so proud of me.”

Who wouldn’t be?

I started out crying. It wasn’t good. I had to find all this crazy shit and had no clue about  where to go. I was lost.  I got tickets on my car. People were on to me. At The Gap, I got called “Stylist!!!“…like, “Nazi! Shoot her!” It was really mean. I told them that I was a nanny working for a rich family and I had to get all the kids clothes. The manager looked at me, rolled her eyes and said that she knew better. I hated her guts because I had to drive to another fricken’ Gap to buy all the same shit.  And then return it the next day at the Super Bitch Gap. I soon realized that John was right. I was a glorified bag lady, but for some reason, I love my trade.