Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Childhood Home - Googled Memories

Many years ago, I lived on a quiet street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I grew up in the same house that my parents still live in today.
Images of that house, and the neighborhood, remain vivid to me and my memories are abundant. Even though it has been a while since I've been back for a visit, I can conjure up enough memories to put me right back on Hastings Street, even in the middle of a snowy winter.

A few days ago, I sold some books on eBay.
The buyer happened to live in Pittsburgh, so, on a whim, I decided to Google Map his house, as I was addressing the box.  I was curious to see how close he lived to my neighborhood, and it turned out that he lived in the North Hills of Pittsburgh.  Point Breeze, where my house stands, is in the East End of Pittsburgh, a fair distance away.

So, since I was in the neighborhood (via Google maps), I figured to look in on my folks to see how accurate my memories actually were.
However, I realized that I had never seen my house from the perspective of the first offered Google view.  As if I was floating along in a hot air balloon, I peered down at my neighborhood, pleasantly surprised to see how many trees filled the clustered, straight streets.
My particular street, Hastings Street, seemed strangely straight from above, giving little sign that it was actually a pretty steep hill.  I never considered how many houses were clumped so close together, and how close each house was to the next. 

It looked like this, with the little red A point being my house:

Remember to click on the pictures to enlarge them

I zoomed in to my street to get a better view (by letting air out of my virtual hot air balloon).  Closer, I could see more detail.

Clearly now, I could make out my house, sandwiched between our neighbors bigger structures.  The backyard, that I remembered being open to the sky, seemed obscured by a big tree.  The addition (known to us as the gameroom) that was built behind the house is visible, but just barely.  I lived in that room, with my older brother, for nearly a decade.  The small, lighter green tree in the backyard is likely what is left of the Peach tree.  I wonder if it still produces peaches like it used to.

I grabbed the little Google dude and placed him on the street, right in front of the house, in order to take a look at it.
What I saw truly surprised me, and I looked at the current view of my childhood home with wonder, trying to absorb the change.

Before you can see what I saw, let's go back in time and take a look at what the house appeared like in February of 1986.  It was the middle of winter with snow piled in the driveway, and icicles hanging from the gutters.  It looked like this:

Notice the bricky smallness of the house, compared to the barnlike Coyne's house on the left.  The Coyne's were an Irish family with a lot of kids, mostly older than the kids in my family.  Johnny Coyne was right between me and my older brother, but ended up in my grade.  We went to kindergarden together, but he ended up going to a different elementary school.  By high school, we didn't see much of each other.  Johnny committed suicide when he was 18, and I remember seeing the police cars and the ambulance outside of his house as I left one day on my way to class (at the University of Pittsburgh).  He shot himself with a gun, somewhere on the top floor, which is all I ever think about when I see that little rectangular window on their house.

The house on the other side were the Budways.  They were a Lebanese family, also with older kids, and almost all of them talented musicians.  David, the oldest, went on to become a well-known Jazz musician.  He has played piano for Liza Minnelli, and has a big following in NYC, where he now lives.  His sister, Maureen, a vocalist, still lives in the house on Hastings Street and sings in clubs and bars.  My parents go to see her on occasion and boast of her beautiful voice as if she was a kid of their own.

If you look at the houses nestled together, you'll notice the "Christmas trees" planted by my father back in the Seventies.  The "Bush" in front of the house provided some privacy to the porch, where my father spent an inordinate amount of time reading (when it wasn't freezing out).  His husky spent an equal amount of time under the bush, enjoying it's shade in the sweltering summertime.
Our garage had been painted and repainted many times.  At this point, it sported a dark blue border with lighter blue checkered squares. Dad's car fit nicely inside the garage, hiding from the snow and the salt of the road.  My car, the blue Oldsmobile in front of the Budway's house can be seen in the photo shivering and sad.

Fast forward a decade, and I have moved to sunny California (perhaps due, in part, to those frigid winters).
I enrolled myself in an Acrylic Painting class at the College of Marin.
The instructor told us to bring a photo to class that we wanted to paint, so I brought (you guessed it) the one above.
520 Hastings Street, a winter view.

The painting, which took me eight weeks to finish:

A copy of it hangs proudly in my parent's home and has been shown to probably everyone who has walked into that house.  The original hangs in my living room here on Maui, and I just took it down to take a picture of it, to share it with you.
Notice the similarities between it and the actual photo.
Also, note the differences, some of which were intentional (like the Budway's yellow lighted windows) and some were not (the windows being much larger, too large, in the painting).
Painting the house brought back memories for me, as it does now, even just looking at the painting.

Fast forward another 15 years and here I am, sitting at my computer on an island in the middle of the Pacific, looking at pictures of Hastings Street on Google Maps.

The current view of my house from the street that initially puzzled me was this one:

 Ummm... I see the "bush," but where is the house?

I walked down the street, with my little Goggle guy, and looked at the house from several angles, never getting much of a glimpse of the actual house.  It was all bush.
This bush had grown untrimmed far too long.
[Insert smarmy seventies porn jokes here].

I put two pix together to give a more panoramic view, but it only served to prove that the "bush" had now completely obscured any street view of the house.  

Privacy was one thing, wilderness living, quite another.

What did Dad feed the bush?

I had actually toyed with the idea of repainting the house scene, but the bush took away any of those notions. It would be a strange and curious painting, that would take some explaining.

I walked the street in Googlevision, looking up and down the hill.

Up Hastings Street

Down Hastings Street

 In the downward view, you can catch a glimpse of the house dwarfed behind the foliage.  My Dad's Toyota Camry sits alone outside the house, keeping guard.

Yesterday, I spoke with my parents on the phone and I mentioned during the conversation that I was able to see the house on my computer.
I asked my Dad when the bush had gotten so big.  
He said that it was always big, and that it was a tree, not a bush.
I asked him if he ever considered trimming it.  
He replied that they liked the privacy that it afforded them, and that they spent hours watching, and enjoying, the birds right outside their picture window.  They put feeders in the bush (tree?) so that they could watch the Cardinals and Blue Jays fight it out with the squirrels.

I mentioned to them that while I was on Google, I took a walk around the neighborhood.  From our house, I went up the street, click by click, until I got to Linden Elementary school.  I stopped to look at my friend Mark's house at the top of the street, and I took the alley (which now appears creepy and old with it's cobblestones).
Dad suggested I move home and that I could do it every day, if I wanted to. 
Sadly, I don't want to.

Nowadays, your memories can be spot checked.
You can relive your childhood by walking the same path.

A google walk might do you good. Clear some cobwebs.

Go back and look at your childhood home.
Stroll your street, and note the changes.

Or, better yet, come visit me.
(But, if you do it virtually, we can't go snorkeling and I can't cook you dinner).

I'm at the blue arrow.      Can't miss me.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

ChatRoulette: Elmo Style

A few years ago, when CHATROULETTE first came out, it caused quite a stir.
Created by a 17 year-old Russian kid, who Skyped a lot, then saw the movie "The Deer Hunter" (which dealt with Russian Roulette), the idea of CHATROULETTE was born.
The concept was interesting, where one was randomly selected with a stranger (or as they refer to it... a partner) anywhere in the world, to chat with, including text, sound and even video.
However, it soon became perverted (literally) when many men decided that they preferred to "chat" with their wieners out in the open, for all the world to see.
Chatroulette became a joke and people went on it knowing fully well that 9 out of 10 "partners" that they were likely to encounter had wieneriffic content.

One night, I was at a friend's house when they decided to try it.  We laughed at the first few phallic fellows, taking turns aiming the camera at each other.  Minutes later, after coming across only a scant couple of females, we quit, having seen enough wieners to last us for the rest of our lives.

South Park had an episode where Cartman was trying to find new friends for Kyle (who had recently joined Facebook)... and he went on ChatRoulette.

Watch this:


After a while, people got tired of seeing such wiener rich content and ChatRoulette, like many internet fads, faded away.

However, recently, there has been a revival of sorts, and ChatRoulette has risen like a phoenix. (So says Wikipedia....)
"The website now has encouraged users to be at least 18 years old, and prohibits pornographic behavior. Users who experience harassment or witness illegal, immoral, or pornographic activity may report the offending user. After three users have complained about the same participant within 5 minutes the user is banned from the service."

40 minutes seems so random to me.
How did they arrive at such a punishment, and why did they refer to it as a game?
I found it strange and wondered if it spurred on a challenge to certain intrepid souls.

So... I got this idea.

I used to teach preschool (many years ago) and I have babysat many little kids over the years.
That explains why I have an Elmo puppet (and I'm not afraid to use it).

I set up my webcam so that only Elmo would be in the frame, turned off my microphone, and went to CHATROULETTE to see if hilarity would ensue. I had high hopes.

Right away, I realized that most of the "partners" were still men.
I was pleasantly surprised that they were now mostly dressed (some were shirtless) but none, thank Allah, seemed to have their wieners out for display.

The majority of guys just took one look at Elmo and clicked to the next person.
Elmo was "nexted" a lot.

Some, like this guy, lingered long enough for me to wave Elmo's hand at him, stunning him long enough for me to grab my camera and snap off a picture of the screen:

A few guys thought it was funny and laughed.
Some even waved back at Elmo, powerless to his charm.

This guy was not amused... check out what he texted:

Very mature?
Who was he kidding... sitting in the dark with his wiener in his hand, wishing he could show it to some poor unsuspecting muppet. (I'm guessing there are probably sites for just that).

Then, as I questioned my maturity, I came across my first actual woman.
She, unfortunately, didn't stick around long enough to say anything, but I did catch her with my camera (it was a skill I was getting better at, as trying to multitask was not easy).

I was stunned that she was actually attractive, and I wondered why she was trolling for wieners,  when she likely had to beat them off of her on a daily basis (not literally, of course).  I wanted so much for Elmo to be able to engage with her in a meaningful way, but she was gone in a flash.

There were a lot of strange, lonely looking guys... some younger than I expected, like this kid, who upon seeing Elmo began to play a song on his guitar.

I nexted him.

Then, surprisingly, another cute chick (with funny pants)... who also didn't stay long.

She seemed young as well, and hostile.
She wasn't the first, and definitely not the last to flip poor Elmo the bird.
As a matter of fact, several people gave Elmo the finger, leading me to wonder what they expected in response (since Elmo really doesn't have fingers... just furry hands).
I attempted to give them one of those Italian flips of the hand, but Elmo doesn't portray violence well, nor can he be the least bit intimidating.  More often than not, when Elmo got the finger, he appeared to spontaneously burst into ballet, which, almost always elicited a quick nexting.

Then, I came across some international, friendly partners.
These two ladies were obviously British (from their accents that I could plainly hear).
They were cracking up as I made Elmo dance and clap and headbang to the music in the background.... until they got bored (perhaps due to my lack of wiener content), and left abruptly.

I started to get a little bored myself, and frankly, my Elmo arm was starting to cramp.

More random dudes with no patience or interest in muppets filtered by, as Elmo was nexted  with reckless abandon.

Then, without warning, I came across these: 

... and Elmo yelled out "BOOBIES!!!"

It was around then that the battery light started to flash on my camera and I knew there was only a limited amount of roulette fun left (if I were to be able to properly document it).
Even though the boobies were commendable, I was still looking for the money shot (hopefully not one that involved a wiener).

A few more random guys like these dudes...

... who seemed bored and disconsolate.  
(Maybe they hadn't been lucky enough, like Elmo, to find actual boobies).

Then, that young guy above (in the white shirt) texted me.  

The only other texts I had received up until that point were vulgar, disparaging remarks about Elmo and/or my mother.

He asked, innocently enough, "You are a girl?"

I thought to myself... what the hell would make him think I was a girl?
Yet, I didn't want to burst his bubble quite yet, so I answered with the first thing that came to my mind... "Monster."

I thought that might throw him, and I wasn't surprised when he asked "Can I have a look at you?"

At a loss for words, I simply said "no."

He countered with "I am 19 years old... you?"

I answered "Monster." (I was method acting... trying to get inside Elmo's head).

That either confused him, or made him question his English... so as he looked quizzical, I added "I'm like 4" (because Elmo really is around 4 years old... right?)

The look on his face, as he read that line, is captured below:

But, bless his heart, he persevered , and wrote:

"I'm Chinese... you?"
C'mon... was there anything else I could answer him... other than the most obvious?
No... I had to say it.

"Monster," I replied.
He laughed.

He countered with "Why always say monster?"
I laughed.

I handed Elmo a small Piglet for no other reason than I saw it on my modem.
The Chinese dude loved it, probably thinking to himself... 
Piglet = Woman.

So I looked for something more manly, and I gave Elmo some scissors.
The 19 year old Chinese man looked concerned and asked "what's that?"
I answered what I thought Elmo would most likely say: "Elmo loves scissors."

Then he asked again if he could "see me" and I wasn't sure what I was going to do.
I couldn't just reveal my real self to him because at that point he would have felt used... and I would have felt even worse.
(Perhaps I could have earned my first strike out of the three, like that blue box said, on my way to being banned for next 40 minutes).

I had to think of something quick.

I wrote "you are looking at me now," thinking that maybe I could stall for time... but my camera was about to die and I had to think of a good ending.

Then he simply wrote "please."

So I replied with "You really want to see me?"

"Yes." He said.

"Alright, but only quick... ready?"
I got the camera ready.

I started to shake Elmo violently, like he was having a seizure, as the camera was rolling.

The puppet came off my hand, revealing... well, my hand.
I waved goodbye to the Chinese dude with one hand and nexted him with the other.

I felt a little bad.

The camera was about to die, so I went to turn it off just as another partner showed up.

This time, I was truly stunned, and I came across the last thing I expected to see.

She was a knockout.

I mean a really, really pretty lady.  (And those of you who know me, and realize that I have Photoshop skills... do not expect to see Megan Fox or Natalie Portman.  This is a true story, and what you see is what I saw.  No kidding.)

My mouth hung open and a little droll came out.
I grabbed Elmo, with the quickness, and got him into the frame.

Elmo gasped. 

My camera had just enough for one last picture... and hurriedly, before she dissipated into the ether, I caught her image. 

(Notice Elmo's look of bewilderment at her unexpected beauty). 

She left before I even thought to grab my wiener.