A Blaze of Cholesterol

On September 6th Tim and I headed for Vandergrift, Pennsylvania to attend Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, an event that features 8 classic drive-in horror movies over two nights. This would be our 3rd Monster-Rama, and we’d be meeting up with friends from Maryland and Nebraska to enjoy these excellent film prints.

This is part six of my trip diary, in which I limp toward a conclusion.

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Tim and I finally got up around 2 PM on Sunday. We headed back to the Yakkitty Yak for some sort of meal. Then we went to Monroeville and scavenged at the Half-Price Books. I can’t satisfactorily explain why we always wind up at a Half-Price Books, but it’s not a Fiasco Brothers trip until we’ve filled our luggage with books, movies, and tunes from one of their many fine locations.

We’d thought of going to the Monroeville mall (location for much of the filming on Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”). We’d gone on our previous two Monster-Rama trips, but there was supposed to be a new zombie museum that we wanted to check out. Not this year, alas.

Tim got a call from Scott while we were wrapping things up at the Half-Price. He and Jessica were going to have dinner at Cuban restaurant before heading home. They wondered if we’d like to join them. Well, yeah!

We drove to Pittsburgh and met up with them at a place called the Black Bean. It was pretty tasty, and we enjoyed talking over the weekend’s events and about kinds of things. It’s nice to be able to relax with similarly minded people and only have to censor myself a little.

Afterwards we walked down the street for dessert at Dave and Andy’s ice cream parlor. Then we went to the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning, which does have a rather imposing lobby. We rode the elevators up to an observation floor, where we looked out over Pittsburgh while discussing trashy films by the likes of Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin. It seemed right.

We said our farewells, and Tim and I headed back to Vandergrift and a peaceful night’s sleep. What we got was a couple of men next door arguing drunkenly over the price for some hunting equipment. I slept fitfully, dreaming of banjo fights.

Nonetheless I awoke Monday morning feeling almost human again. Tim fussed with the GPS settings and gave it to understand that we would prefer a direct route even if there would be tolls. This stern approach seemed to work as there were no confusing turnouts on the way to Michigan.

We stopped for food at a chain restaurant, and I had burger and a pumpkin shake. I expressed a touch of remorse over this decidedly unhealthy option, but Tim waved it off.

“It’s the last day of your vacation,” he said. “It’s okay to go out in a blaze of glory. Or cholesterol.”

I mused on this wisdom as burger grease ran down my chin into my goatee. The rest of the meal passed in cholesterol-laden glory.

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Bonus Entry

The place where we ate on Monday had cookies called smileys. For me, this at last provided context for that mysterious icon, the frownie. I concocted the following story to explain my entirely baseless understanding of the situation.

Emotional Dining Icons: a fable

Once upon a time in western Pennsylvania, there was a chain of family restaurants. All family restaurants being more or less the same, the plucky restaurant chain needed a way to distinguish itself from the other chains of family restaurants.

One day while making sugar cookies for the restaurant chain, a baker was struck by whimsy and decorated the sugar cookies with smiley faces. An icon was born! From then on the little chain of family restaurants branded itself with the Smiley, and lo! did t-shirts get sold.

Seeing the success that the Smiley had brought to the chain of family restaurants, a rival chain worried that they could no longer compete. The power of the Smiley was strong, for how can anyone counter a smile? Grins were considered but ultimately rejected due to the dangers of unchecked escalation of happiness. So to were leers discarded, as this was after all a chain of family restaurants.

At last one baker, perhaps driven mad by the attempts to create edible emotions, suggested putting frowns on brownies. “We’ll call them Frownies!” he proclaimed before retreating under a table to giggle at nothing in particular. The other bakers stared at each other in shock, and at the first baker to check for knives. Then one cleared her throat.

“It’s… It’s not a bad idea, really.”

And so it came to pass that the two chains of family restaurants competed fairly for the family dining business of western Pennsylvania.

And some say that on moonlit nights in the woods surrounding Pittsburgh you can still hear that baker giggling at nothing in particular.

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Vampires and Bikers and Cops, Oh My!

On September 6th Tim and I headed for Vandergrift, Pennsylvania to attend Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, an event that features 8 classic drive-in horror movies over two nights. This would be our 3rd Monster-Rama, and we’d be meeting up with friends from Maryland and Nebraska to enjoy these excellent film prints.

This is part five of my trip diary, in which British horror saved us all.

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The second night was a lot colder. I’d left my jacket in the room and borrowed an extra coat from Tim. (He had three because of reasons.)  Along with my hoodie, it kept me warm enough. Scott wound up asking for a blanket, and Chad offered him one that he’d gotten from the company that cleaned his gutters. This seemed an utterly unreasonable source, but Scott was cold.

He spent the better part of a movie attempting to discern the proper usage of this suspicious article, but he finally had to admit defeat. The thing was some advanced gutter-centric manner of blanket far beyond our ability to wrap around a cold body. I maintain it was actually a tarp, but the prevailing opinion favored a Soviet military origin.

Fortunately, Tim also had a quite sensible blanket in his trunk. He likes to be prepared, and I’m afraid to ask if he keeps a shovel and an axe in his car. Better to be grateful when he has our backs and not ask too many questions that might have answers.

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Twins of Evil

“Quintuplets of Evil!”

“…I think you meant quadruplets.”

Peter Cushing is a witch hunter who condemns innocent women to the stake, and he’s not the villain. He’s not the hero either, but he steals the show as the rectitudinous zealot out of his depth when a vampire claims one of his twin nieces. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s pretty engaging. We had a lot of fun with it far beyond the obvious and obligatory twin/cleavage jokes.

It was after this movie that one of the people manning the Creepy Classics table asked me how many movies I’d bought from them so far. When I advised him not to give me cause to reflect on that, he laughed and took more of my money.

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Countess Dracula

“Just a maiden a day keeps the wrinkles away!”

This one was pretty much the platonic ideal of a sleazy drive-in flick. Totally-not-Countess-Bathory murders the crap out of lovely young maidens to rejuvenate herself with their blood. There’s romance, treachery, screaming, ripped bodices, murder, and retribution. What more do you want?

We had a great time watching this, but I fear that our humor dropped into the gutter, fell through the gate, washed out to sea, and stunned an innocent barnacle. I’m saying that two late nights of horror movies made us irretrievably foul. I’m deeply ashamed of us, although of course I’m still giggling over some of the choicest remarks.

Is it even possible to be unrepentantly remorseful?

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Raw Meat

“Too bad he ate the maid…”

Billed as “Raw Meat” (the US release name) we were treated to the UK print, known as “Death Line”. I’m not sure what differences there are in the cuts, as it’s been a few years since I saw the US version.

By any name, this is a great blend of the mystery/suspense genre with survival horror. The actual premise is rather silly (that cannibals live in abandoned subway tunnels), but you become so absorbed by the action that you willingly shrug and enjoy the ride.

Of particularly captivating interest is Donald Pleasance as the decidedly unpleasant Inspector Calhoun. He hurls darts at his door, barks at witnesses, and gets blisteringly drunk. Personally I like to imagine that nobody told Pleasance there was a movie going on. They just set up cameras and brought him in.

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Psychomania

“They’re such nice young zombies!”

This was another UK print. I’d never seen it under any name, so all I can tell you is that it’s “The Death Wheelers”. This isn’t a bad name for the only known entry of the polite-druidic-zombie-biker-death-cultists genre.

There’s this toad, see, and… Well, so the leader goes into this strange room, and… There’s a toad…

It’s kind of hard to describe, really. Bikers start killing themselves in increasingly flamboyant ways in order to become deathless, and there’s this toad…

Whatever the hell was going on, it was pretty cool. We loved it.

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We said our goodbyes to Chad and Mike, who’d be leaving for Nebraska long before we expected to be conscious. Then we packed up our drive-in gear and went to bed. Tim and I planned to spend one more night at Lake’s Roadhouse before heading home.

Highway 66 Revisited

On September 6th Tim and I headed for Vandergrift, Pennsylvania to attend Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, an event that features 8 classic drive-in horror movies over two nights. This would be our 3rd Monster-Rama, and we’d be meeting up with friends from Maryland and Nebraska to enjoy these excellent film prints.

This is part four of my trip diary, in which we rested a bit between Monster-Rama nights.

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The thing about western Pennsylvania is that a straight road is as rare as a steak still on the cow. The reason for this is that two tectonic plates met there, and one threw up its metaphorical hands. Bits of ground jut up all over the place, and it’s easier to wrap roads around them than to make things level.

Perhaps this is why it felt like we spent considerable time on PA-66. Certainly much of Saturday was spent on this highway, driving around Vandergrift and North Apollo.

We started with an early afternoon brunch at the Yakkitty Yak diner in North Apollo. This is a 1950s-style aluminum diner that serves up filling meals with a no-nonsense directness. A help wanted sign flatly states that the ideal candidate has grey hair and no life. When we entered, a customer declared that the rest of us needed to teach Mike how to grow a beard. I haven’t satisfactorily completed that curriculum myself, and nobody else stepped up, so Mike’s on his own I reckon. Sorry, complete stranger!

Tim, Mike, Chad, and I ate heartily and planned our day. All of us agreed that we wanted a lazy afternoon to lead quietly into the second late night of films, especially as the afternoon had already begun. We drove back to Vandergrift (on PA-66, of course) and went book shopping.

Reads, Ink is a lovely used book store that took up residence in a house. The walls are all covered in books, which leaves a lot of nice open spaces through which customers may wander. There are comfy chairs everywhere, and you can buy coffee. It’s a very welcoming store, even if the pulp novels are relegated to the basement.

While there, we ran into George Reis. He put together the Monster-Rama, so it was neat to meet him. It’s unfortunate that we bluntly voiced our displeasure with “Son of Blob”, but we made up for it with our enthusiasm for the experience in general. I hope.

Feet firmly planted in mouths, we went back to the motel (which, along with the drive-in, is on PA-66). We had some time before dinner, but not enough that we felt comfortable heading to Pittsburgh for anything. Mike set up his movie player, and we all watched “The Raid: Redemption” while chatting aimlessly.

Then we strolled over to the attached bar for dinner. We were the only customers at the time, and Wanda came over with the waitress and talked with us while we ate. This is the sort of thing that I don’t really know how to deal with, but everyone in the area had been extremely friendly to us so I was almost used to it by then. I tried out my small talk, and if I was terrible at it nobody seemed to mind.

Maybe it was easier for me to interact since it would be a year before I came back. Whatever, it was a simple but good experience in behaving like a sane person. I’ll have to try it out closer to home.

But the hour was late, and we had four more movies to watch. It was time to get back on PA-66.

Nope, Nope, Nope, Nope

On September 6th Tim and I headed for Vandergrift, Pennsylvania to attend Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, an event that features 8 classic drive-in horror movies over two nights. This would be our 3rd Monster-Rama, and we’d be meeting up with friends from Maryland and Nebraska to enjoy these excellent film prints.

This is part three of my trip diary, in which we begin to question our commitment to Sparkle Motion.

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It’s difficult to assign a running gag, but Tim did just that by showing us the animated GIF of a cephalopod scurrying across the sea floor under the caption “NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE”. As Tim explained, “That octopus has places to be, and it’s not here.”

This spoke to us increasingly as the first night of movies splashed over the drive-in screen.

It all started innocently with Vincent Price getting his murder on.

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Theatre of Blood

“To be fair, I would follow Diana Rigg into an obvious death trap.”

Vincent Price plays Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor who jumped out of a window after being snubbed by a prestigious circle of theater critics. He washes up (heh) in a hobo camp and, with the help of his smelly new friends and a dude we’re not supposed to recognize as his daughter in disguise (Diana Rigg in a mustache is still gorgeous) — with said assistance, Lionheart exacts grisly vengeance on the critics.

The murders are Shakespearean set pieces, making this often feel like leftovers from “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” with its Biblical plagues theme. Price is in peak form here, a delight to watch as he over-acts with appropriate abandon. Diana Rigg makes the most of a relatively minor role, selling the character relationship with gazes filled with admiration and adoration.

I always enjoy Robert Morley, and (despite disagreement in our ranks) I think he’s particularly fun here. I have an affection for roles that call for the extravagant speech patterns and mannerisms of the cinematic homosexual so prevalent before the 1980s. Morley sets his teeth so firmly into this part that he nearly upstages Price during his own murder. It’s delicious fun!

I think we all enjoyed this one, and it saw the first appearance of the proclamation “The twins of evil!” in honor of a film that we knew we would be seeing the following night. In my defense I have reasons to hate miniature French poodles, even if Robert Morley is carrying them.

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I know what you’re wondering. Yes! Tom Savini was there. We didn’t bother him, because he was there to see movies not doughy nerds.

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Horror House/Haunted House of Horror

“Hey, let’s go back to the murder scene!”

I’d been looking forward to “Horror House” as it stars Frankie Avalon. Avalon is most associated with the series of beach movies he made with Annette Funicello, but he’s appeared in action, suspense, and drama films as well. So a proto-slasher flick — I figured, why not?

Because, as it turns out, the script is terrible.

Avalon’s role is to convince everybody not to behave sensibly, and he’s given absolute no reason to do this. Perhaps his insanely yellow sweater did the thinking. At any rate everyone runs around uselessly until the mystery comes to an abrupt and rather silly end.

I believe we chanted “nope, nope, nope” a few times during “Theatre of Blood”, but here’s where we began saying it with more conviction. Should the jealous ex-boyfriend go to the haunted house to find his lighter? Nope, nope, nope, nope. Do we even care who the killer is? Nope, nope, nope, nope.

We’d all seen much worse, so spirits were still relatively high. Plus there were movies to buy from the Creepy Classics guys and a lot of pizza burgers to eat (when not stuffing our faces with Jessica’s Gorgo cake).

Restocked and refueled, we prepared for the second half of the night’s program.

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Equinox

“Hi, I’m Ranger Totally-Lord-Satan”

I’m told that “Equinox” started life as a student film, which certainly explains why much of its running time feels like padding. There’s some rather nice stop-motion work here and there, but other than the hilarity of a park ranger named Asmodeus (“nope, nope, nope”) a lot of it was just more aimless running around. We’d seen that already, and with better production values.

Being three hours past my normal bedtime, after a very busy day, I passed the hell out some time before whatever was happening onscreen resolved. Not to fear, though; “Equinox” is available in a Criterion edition, a copy of which I’d purchased only a few hours earlier.

I’m genuinely curious to see it while I’m conscious. I do love me some stop-motion monsters.

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Son of Blob

“ERMAHGERD! BLERB!”

Once upon a time, Larry Hagman directed a sequel to the beloved and uniquely American horror film “The Blob”. I love the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, and I appreciate the hard work that the organizers and drive-in staff put into it. That said, ending a night of films with “Son of Blob” is tantamount to serving stale graham crackers for dessert.

It’s like two different movies. There’s the short but awesome special effects one about the blob eating everybody, and then there’s the really long comedy with no discernible sense of humor.

Jessica and Scott scooted back to Monroeville like an octopus that has things to do. The rest of us stayed because apparently we hate ourselves. Also, blob.

Damn you, Larry Hagman!

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It was around 5:00 am when we packed up and scuttled down the road to the motel. We were tired but ready to do it again the next night, by which time we thought we might wake up.

Things To Do In Pittsburg When You’re In Town To See Drive-In Movies

On September 6th Tim and I headed for Vandergrift, Pennsylvania to attend Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, an event that features 8 classic drive-in horror movies over two nights. This would be our 3rd Monster-Rama, and we’d be meeting up with friends from Maryland and Nebraska to enjoy these excellent film prints.

This is part two of my trip diary, in which we get to the drive-in in time.

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Thursday night we met up with Scott and Jessica for dinner. They led us to Green Pepper, a Korean restaurant that was very good but oddly strict. For instance there could only be one check per table; and a note informed patrons that if separate checks were desired, the staff could help locate a restaurant that would do that sort of thing.

Nonetheless, it was a good meal. Also I got to see Scott try to eat an entire chicken in some manner of stew that boiled eternally.

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All six of us met up at a King’s restaurant for brunch. On deciding to head in to Pittsburgh for the afternoon, we abandoned two of our vehicles in the parking lot and piled in Scott’s minivan.

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The Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh is largely concerned with geology, for some reason.

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“This imitation Roman helmet was fully formed by natural forces.”

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We had to approach the mounted zebra exhibit carefully, because we weren’t entirely certain when we’d run into glass. The display was a little too clever for the likes of us.

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The Carnegie Museum of Art has so many chairs on display that we decided they were sculptures of Presidents.

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Everything was fine until all five men of our group met up near the modern art. Then security was on us like white blood cells on Raquel Welch. We figured that we’d been mistaken as a small herd of large, clumsy bulls.

We declared Chad lead bull and lined up behind him.

Fortunately Jessica came back and we left before the guards found a red cape.

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It was inevitable that we’d wind up in a book store at some point during our trip. The Caliban Book Shop was close to the Carnegie Museum complex, so that’s the one at which we wound up. The main store is a good collection of fiction and assorted non-fiction, and there’s a corner behind the register where a tiny record store lurks.

Tim found the secret door leading to the basement and disappeared through it. Mike, Chad, and I followed. I’m not entirely certain this lower floor existed in the same building (or dimension) as the main store. There were twists in the stairs that didn’t add up on later reflection, and the building materials changed significantly. The cashier readily took our money for the books we found down there, so it’s probably okay.

Not a single one of thought to tell the others where we went. Scott tried calling Tim to find him, but being in the dimension of pulp fiction Tim’s phone had no reception. Apparently he discovered some interesting stores while looking for us, but by the time we surfaced we were of a mind to head for Vandergrift. Chad and Mike needed to check into the roadhouse, and we all wanted real food before watching eight hours of movies.

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Our window for real food was consumed trying to discover a route back to our cars in rush hour traffic. I’m afraid that it took me a while to overcome childhood lessons and assist, and then I was pathetically passive-aggressive about the whole thing. At least the incident spawned one of our go-to jokes for the week-end. Whenever someone on-screen was travelling or consulting a book, one of us would always assure the others that this road should be merging to 386 soon.

Rerouting to Terror!

On September 6th Tim and I headed for Vandergrift, Pennsylvania to attend Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, an event that features 8 classic drive-in horror movies over two nights. This would be our 3rd Monster-Rama, and we’d be meeting up with friends from Maryland and Nebraska to enjoy these excellent film prints.

This is part one of my trip diary, in which we learned (in Jessica’s words) that our navigation would not be ruled by fact-checking.

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Tim and I arranged to meet at the university parking lot that we use for work. I arrived early, so I stood in the morning air reading my copy of Introducing Evolutionary Psychology: A Graphic Guide. The dev manager for my current project pulled in a few spots away from me, and she advised me to try going further from work for my vacation.

Moments later Tim pulled up. We transferred my luggage to his car and drove closer to work for breakfast before starting the trip. Who did I cross paths with on the way into the restaurant?

At this point, she’s probably convinced that I’m not actually leaving Ann Arbor.

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Dude walked into the restaurant wearing a white t-shirt with the custom message “Have you seen the sporty new Toyota Kamikaze?” I suppose he believed this to be an insightful enjoinder to buy American, but it’s really a notice to those around him that he’s the loneliest xenophobe in a cosmopolitan town.

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There’s a reason Tim calls us The Fiasco Brothers

We were following the GPS and wound up on rural Ohio highways instead of the tollway. It took about forty minutes to get back on course. The entire time, the GPS voice continued to attempt to get us back where we didn’t want to be, saying “rerouting” with increasing venom.

Tim expected it to say “For fuck’s sake, Lehnerer. Get on the road.” I awaited the more prosaic “Lick my balls. You’re on your own.”

As we eventually drove down our chosen road, we could hear it still muttering at us to reverse our course.

“Well,” I said. “We should be good for the next several hours.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “We’re no longer listening to the GPS!”

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There’s a World Cup pinball machine at the service plaza where we ate lunch. A note stuck under the glass helpfully points out that the game is only for entertainment purposes.

So much for my dreams of football glory!

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After much confusion within a half an hour of Vandergrift, we decided to once again heed the GPS. With some apprehension we pulled in at a motel where Lake’s Roadhouse was supposed to be. The motel had no name but was attached to a bar called Ricky Lake’s Place, which could be assumed to be our destination.

There was a sign on the door of the motel office saying to call a number. Tim did so, and a woman came out of the bar to meet us. She seemed both to be surprised at our arrival and to know who we were. She asked us to give her some time to get ready and told the bartender to give us some free drinks.

Being me, I whispered to Tim that our bodies would be found in the lake — which is weird, because it’s all rivers around here.

We had our free drinks (a lager and a Shirley Temple), and Tim talked up the Monster-Rama to the bartender, who might actually come as she digs Vincent Price and Boris Karloff. Also the drive-in is just a few hundred feet down the road and admission is only $10, so really there’s no excuse for not going.

Wanda came back, and I know her name because she wrote it and her number on a slip for us in case we had some kind of motel-related emergency. Tim paid upfront for our stay, and the rate was so good he called our friends driving in from Nebraska to let them know. Wanda offered to leave the door unlocked on a room for them (they’d be getting in pretty late), and they could square things with her on Friday morning. It was a generous offer, but they were locked in to their previous reservation, at least for Thursday night.

I was beginning to feel confused by all the respect, decency, and trust. It felt like a rare episode of “The Twilight Zone” where the unexpected twist is that life is good.

Wendi v OCD

I’m given to compulsive behaviors, particularly when under stress. For the most part they don’t interfere with my life, so I tend to let them be. When they get bad, I know it’s time to find ways to resolve outstanding tensions in my life.

That’s now. When I was in college the compulsions pretty much had free rein. There were a few specific ways in which they tended to manifest, but broadly speaking it was all about verification. I’d check that the alarm was set, sometimes upward of twenty times. I’d get partway down the hall and have to go back to make sure I’d really locked my door.

Wendi is very much her father’s daughter. People amuse her, particularly when she can play with their heads. She’d let me get out to the elevator lobby and ask innocently if I’d locked my door. Of course I had to go check, even though I’d verified it repeatedly just after leaving my room.

After a few days of this I noticed her grinning as I’d return. After that, I’d glare at her before stomping off to check the door. Within a few weeks I decided that I’d rather be robbed than give her the satisfaction of checking the door, whereupon Wendi declared that her therapy had worked.

She still pokes at that compulsion now and then. We’ll be laying in bed, waiting for Wyeth to bring us the tarantula (not a euphemism) so we can fall asleep, and Wendi will ask expectantly if I locked the door.

“I don’t care,” I grumble, despite the urge to go check. She laughs and, contented, falls asleep.