Save me San Francisco… updated

Me and my cousin Melanie in Minneapolis when we were much younger. Though dang, Melanie, how’d you find the hooch so early?

Train has an album (yes, they are still called that), “Save me San Francisco.”  I love that title, maybe because I love San Francisco so much. As this is Thanksgiving week, I am going to publish this earlier than I meant to.  Here is a list of some of the things to which I need to say, “Thank you!”

My family:  Maybe you read my blog or have met my mother, you may think my family all come from American Horror Story.  They don’t.  The photo on the left was taken one year when we went to Minneapolis for Christmas or Thanksgiving.  For years, my holiday season meant Christmas in Minnesota and New Years in California.  Nothing says Christmas like Minneapolis.  The snow.  The cold.  The indoor shopping and the inevitable time when my Uncle Roger (who will only be referred to as “Roger” from here on) would try to get us all to go ice skating, cross country skiing or something else in negative 20 degree weather.  As I got older I opted out.  One of my favorite injuries was from when I was 10.  I chipped my right hip ice skating on a lake or pond or something.  Seriously, I had a bruise that was black for over a year.  Not kidding.  Not a complaint.

I like to call Roger my “Uncle Flanders” (sorry Melanie, he really is and I mean that in the best

Roger “Uncle Flanders” Clarke — from his web site.

possible way).  Some of the best memories of my childhood are from when my Minnesota family came to Long Island in the summer.  We had a lobster party every year on my grandmother’s patio.  The day of the bash Roger and I would spend the afternoon clamming and digging for muscles in the creek behind the house.  We always also had an outing to West Hampton.

I am going to write more about these times and what they meant to me but for now, I am just thankful that I have gotten to be closer with some members of my family and want the people who have always been there for me to know how much that has meant.  Thank you Roger, Sandy, Melanie, Abbie, Bonnie, Tom & Libby.  Thank you for  getting back in touch (I am looking at you Bonnie, she started reading my blog and following me on Facebook and it has been really nice getting to know you again through social media, cannot wait to see you next month).

Friends who have stood by me though too much craziness and drama: I am a red headed Leo from New York so I know there’s always going to be a certain amount of drama in my life but this has been crazy.  Throughout it all, I have some friends, you know who you are, who have not given up on me.  Even when I gave up on me.  Some of you have travelled with me all over the globe looking for adventure and booty (just kidding about the booty but Kilimanjaro and Everest were pretty exciting).

San Francisco:  I was born in the city by the Bay (call it anything that starts with F and is six letters and I will cut you, CUT YOU LIKE A FISH) and spent a decent amount of my youth there. I often think of it as a sea of sanity in an otherwise crazy world.

San Francisco is one of the most awesome cities in the country.  When I was in high school, my mom and her husband found an amazing apartment in Noe Valley.  From the back deck we had the most unbelievable view of the Bay Bridge.  It looked like a post card.  Every morning I would sit on that deck and have my coffee and was never not impressed.  I remain grateful for every moment in that wonderful city.

Sports:  Love sports.  So much fun to get so into something that actually means so little.

COMEDY!  Thank you Chris Coccia and the DC Improv for giving me the hobby that helps me cling to the sliver of sanity I have left.  LOVE YOU.

The thing I am most thankful for: YOU!  Thank you for reading my blog and giving me your feedback.  It means the world to me.  THANK YOU!!!

Goodbye, Jim.

Having successfully fought the urge to make the title of this post, “He’s dead, Jim” I still could not let that phrase go.  Now, I should warn you right now that this post is not going to do anything for anyone’s opinion of me.  I am pretty sure if you like me, you may reconsider after reading this.  If you already think I am a bitch, well, this is the post to prove that theory.

My mother‘s husband, Jim Cassin, died earlier today.  He had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis for at least the past few years, though it only got really bad since February or so.  I went to visit my mother last Christmas and he was doing ok then.  He was biking five miles a day so I assumed he was ok.  Of course, I didn’t really care one way or the other so I didn’t give his health a whole lot of thought.

So now, I am writing up my feelings about his life (and death) and I am not really sure what they are.  Let me explain.

My mother met and married Jim when I was a teenager.  An incredibly angry and surly teenager (I am sure there are dictionaries with a photo of me at 14 next to “surly” or “evil”).  I was particularly angry with my mother who left me to be raised by a violent sociopath.  She didn’t help her case by coming back to Long Island once or twice a year and trying to give me rules to follow.  Right, like that was going to work.

It was pretty clear that she had fallen pretty hard for this guy.  I never saw what she saw but hell, the heart wants what it wants, right?  So they were married.  I would like to tell you when they were married but I didn’t find out about it for some months after the event so I am not really sure.  I was pretty pissed off about that, too but when it hit me that she had just written herself out of ever complaining about my marital status, ever, I found a way to get over it.

Meanwhile, Jim was never really nice to me.  My mother would tell me that “he never signed up to be a parent.”  I wanted to say, “Yeah, well, I was here before him.”  I might have actually said that once or twice but nothing came of it.  It was pretty clear that if the choice ever had to be made between him and me, she would pick him.  You may be thinking that sounds extreme or like an overreaction but it really isn’t.  A few years before they moved to Florida, he and I had a disagreement over his reaction to her cancer.  I said, “When are you going to take this more seriously?”  As a follow up, I asked her what the marriage was doing for her.  After spending the day in the hospital with her, she asked me to hide so he wouldn’t see me when he came to pick her up.

It was the last time I was allowed in their house for at least four years.  During that time, I got really sick and spent the better part of a year in the hospital.  She was barely able to visit me and it was a hard time for me.

Eventually, Jim relented and let me visit them in Florida.  I think he saw that he was hurting her and at the end of the day, as sadistic as he was, he didn’t like doing that.

Over the years, I never got the point where I liked him.  My first impressions from San Francisco where he actually hit on me (at 16 and 17) never really left me totally.  The combination of that and his self-centered nature made me never feel connected at  all to him.  Moreover, he was actively mean to a lot of people, me included.

What do you think?

How Stephen King changed my life

Stephen King signature.

Stephen King signature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are only a handful of people who have really influenced my life in lasting ways.  My grandmother, Judy Chadwick Clarke, tops the list.  After family, there’s President Bill Clinton (you cannot work for someone as long as I worked for him and not be impacted — for the much better).  Probably Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca) — my first job out of college was working for her, as I have said before.  Many of the people who have made an impression did so during adulthood so their contribution was limited in some respects.

The same cannot be said of Stephen King.  His contribution changed the entire trajectory of my life and  made my current career possible.  Thank you, Mr. King.

My family is made up of a lot of readers.  Percentage wise, I think there are more librarians than any other profession but that could be a skewed view based on Judy (I always called my grandmother by her first name), who was one.  Even the non-librarians read and as things are, I am the least educated member of my family (BA in French from Stony Brook University, pre-med certificate from Georgetown) — unless you consider my cousin Abbie’s child Knut and he is a baby.  I am pretty sure he has at least a maters in something by now.  Probably particle physics or economics.

If you are thinking, wow, you sure are lazy compared to them.  Yeah, I am.  That goes way back.  When I was in elementary school I hated to do any schoolwork and dreaded reading.  Not because I didn’t like to read but the drivel they gave me bored me to tears and if you’ve read my posts about the wonderful adventure that was my childhood, you understand that I had enough to cry about without letting shitty books do it.  So, I never read anything they gave me.  This, in turn, made the school think I couldn’t read and it was not an idea I was in any hurry to disuade them from.  They put me in the reading class basically for kids who should have been drooling in the corner.  I don’t think I did any homework for at least a year, maybe two.

In retrospect, I am not sure how the educators at my school were so oblivious– and the Three Village School District where I went is considered a really good one.  Look it up.  While you’re at it, look up the Wikipedia entry for Stony Brook the town.  You’ll see a familiar name under “famous people from here.”  Kevin James went to my high school (graduated before me).  But the name I am talking about, of course, is mine.  My parents were divorcing and that just wasn’t done back then.  Plus there was the whole fake kidnapping issue that my father kept harping about (the time my mom took me to Iceland for the summer and he said I had been kidnapped) and maybe they just didn’t want to deal with me.  It was easier to just let me do my think, whatever the hell that was, than actually pay some attention.  I sound bitter – and I am about a lot of things but this isn’t one of them.  I didn’t bother them (much) and they didn’t bother me (much).

Meanwhile, I went on reading and learning in my own way.  I liked to read quite a bit.  On one visit

Stephen King, American author best known for h...

Stephen King, American author best known for his enormously popular horror novels. King was the 2003 recipient of The National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Taken at the 2007 New York Comicon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

with my mother I begged her to buy me a Stephen King book — The Shining.  She did, after making me promise to read Agatha Christie, which I never did and never have.  Those books bore me, too.  And if you are an Agatha Christie fan, save your hate tweets and emails (or don’t, I love getting hate mail), just not gonna get into it now.

Anyway, I was all about Stephen King.  As soon as I would finish one book, my mom would send another (side note, if you really want to get the full horror effect of ‘Salem’s Lot, read it by candle light under the skylight in your attic bedroom after a hurricane has knocked out the power to your town.  Seriously.  I hung garlic and crosses around my room for months.  Damn vampires aren’t getting to me that easy.  Fuckers.).

This Stephen King obsession began when I was in the fifth grade.  I think it was that first book, The Shining, that I brought to school.  My terrified teacher, and I wish I could remember her name because she was the first I ever had who took an actual interest in my work and me, asked What are you doing with that book?!?!  I like to think I answered something smart-assy like, Well, I am not burning it, if that’s what you’re asking.  I am not sure that’s what I said or not but it sounds like me, so what the hell?  That’s what I said.  And unless you were there, bite me.

In any case, that caused quite the stir as the school realized that I wasn’t as dumb as a box of rocks (that would come later, like now).  They moved me into the second highest reading level, which pissed me off at the time because there was actual work in  that class.   The class also introduced me to creative writing, which is a passion I have pursued ever since.  I have not left home without a pen and notebook since I was 11.  If you ever see me on the street, you can ask if I have one.  I do.  Don’t take my word for it.  By the time I got to high school, I was a pretty decent fiction writer — a persona I am desperately trying to recapture — and my teachers did wonders to nurture that in me.  I remain grateful to them as well.

The writing bug was not the only things Stephen King gave me.  His books did more to help me survive certain really bad years of my life than anything else.  Therapy (individual and family) didn’t do it.  While I have the honest hat on, I think part of the appeal of his books was I was able to confront demons in his fiction that I couldn’t in my real life.  Violence wasn’t an abstract concept for me back then, it was never more than a heart beat away.  Reading books like It let me fight back and win, every time.

Much of my professional career has included a lot of writing; press releases/statements, talking points,  briefing materials, blog posts, op-eds, newsletters, whatever press materials need to be produced — I have produced them.  In addition, I have maintained this brilliant blog for at least five years (I think, I could be wrong, I have been hit on the head a lot and am too lazy to look that up).  In 2011, I started getting paid to write political satire for the site — the first time I have ever been paid for comic writing of any kind.  I also write and perform stand-up comedy throughout Washington, DC and New York City.  The only other thing that I can do in such a public manner that I like almost as much is karaoke, which is one of the most awesome things.  I may break into Don’t stop believing right now.  I am at work so I won’t but you get the idea.

The only productive things I did as a kid really were read, write and work on campaigns.  None of that prevented me from spending the latter part of my teens doing way more drugs and alcohol that I should have (and I am still surprised that I am still alive, I have to be on life 8.5 by now) but when I left the abusive situation, all of that stopped and the positives in my life took the place of the negatives.  I can only imagine where I would have ended up had I never brought that book to school.  I would probably have stayed in that class for idiots and then when I discovered drugs and alcohol, that’s all I would have had and I would probably still be on Long Island.  My mind cannot even grasp how awesome that life would have been.

Thank you, Stephen King.  You really changed my life and I will never get to thank you enough.

PS.  The second best book on writing, after The Elements of Style, of course, is Stephen King’s On Writing.  I would also like to add that even as a kid, I LOVED his introductions.  They rock.

Ahhh…. college

Oh, so that's liquid nitrogen pouring on me, then?

Certain events this week have me thinking about college.  And, don’t worry, this is a personal post but nothing sad or depressing.  I am not sure how interesting this will be to anyone who wasn’t there but I hope it makes you laugh, Ali.

The various pictures are all from the site: and are undoctored photos from around campus.

I was back at Stony Brook for homecoming last fall — which was my first Stony Brook homecoming ever, I didn’t even go when I went there.  A lot has changed.  The bridge to nowhere is gone, which makes me sad.

First up:  Dumb things Stony Brook did.

Stony Brook University is supposed to be known as one of the best SUNY schools and have excellent science and engineering departments.  Yet the following statements are all true:

  1. The hugely expensive sports complex cannot be used, as promised, for sports events like track because the track is six inches too short. 

    Attack of the crasher squirrel!

    (Similarly, the pool, also built for outside events, was built backwards.)

  2. For years they had a ‘bridge to nowhere’ that was supposed to connect the library to the student union, one is across the street from the other but it failed to do so.
  3. One university president, in his desire to make the school more like USC, wanted a bell tower with a clock to chime throughout the day but the school had no money so he played a recording of chimes, complete with static, on the hour, each hour.  Stay classy, Stony Brook.
  4. Although hurricane season occurs every year at the same time, major roof repairs were done to many of the dorms in August.  Yes, one struck Long Island and yes, those dorms flooded.
  5. Two quads were listed as “G” and “H” on diagrams for the school during its construction, not being clever enough to think of real names, they stayed that way for more than 30 years.
  6. People always get lost in the library because when they wanted to expand it, they just build a new one around the old one.
  7. When I was in the student government, I was on a panel to improve the quality of our food.  We were asked to discuss our most memorable experience with the food (seriously, not “what was your best food?” but what has your most “memorable experience with the food” — well, that time we…).  Mine was when they offered us veal patties.  Being curious about how a state school was serving veal, something which I have not eaten since I was 10, I asked for one.  It was empty.  Fried air.  That’s where those crack engineering minds were spending their time.

Next up: dumb things I did:

These are the things that should comfort me whenever I think it is early senility or my most recent head injury causing me to forget something (like the time recently I ran into get my checkbook and ran out with my remote control).  I should take heart; I was always this absent minded.  When we were roommates (side note: my name is Alyson, my roommate’s name was Alison and one of my best college friend’s name was Allison, you can imagine how interesting that made things), I thought our outgoing dorm voicemail should be one of those “I am sorry, can you please speak up…?” deals, so I recorded one.  My idea and my voice and yet it still managed to fool me at least five times.  All of the roommates (we were in a six person suite), thought it was hilarious that I set my alarm clock ahead by several minutes to trick myself.  A few joked they were going to change it to screw with me more and one did — rather than being 15 minutes ahead it was somewhere in the range of 90.  For more than a semester I showed up everywhere more than an hour early. (In my defense, that was only mornings when I had something early.  Against me, I was in the student government that year and clearly, no job on earth carries the importance of that, so I did go into “my office” pretty early most days.)

Remember Gina’s ‘heap of hope?’ (Gina was not the most tidy suitemate and had a pile roughly the size of Everest on her bed.)  Yes, that remote control we lost for several months was in there.

How about Misha the cat from hell? Or how she kept leaping from the balcony?  Or how we had to hide the cats in the shower when they did room inspections?  Or Randi’s birds that shit everywhere.  

Not sure why, but back in college I liked to walk around singing the Ivory Soap commercial.  Not kidding.  One day I was in some building on campus and ran into Iowa (another suitemate) singing it.  She swore me to promise never to tell anyone but I think the statute of limitations has run its course on that one.

Anyway, when I went back, there were a lot of changes.  I don’t know what this says about me — maybe nothing, the olfactory system is supposedly one of the most closely connected to memory — but when I walked down the stairs of the union building it was as if not a moment had passed since you and I were there.  The smell brought it all back: The Rainy Night House, that student government scandal my campaign nearly caused (ironic and sad) and how lucky I am that we were roommates.

Love you.