Not yet a week ago, my friend Jill and I had a delicious Italian dinner followed by a visit to the Walter Kerr Theatre for Springsteen on Broadway.
I’ve seen Bruce before—twice—but only accompanying my favorite living band (U2). He was phenomenal, but on those occasions he was playing their songs, so I was especially excited to hear him sing his own stuff on this night. Even more excited because I read his exceptional memoir last year.
I thought, because I’d read the book, I knew what I was in for … but I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I expected was a pleasant night of songs with a few anecdotal introductions. What I got was something I keep calling ‘transcendent’ because that’s really the only word I can find that comes close. All of this came free of cell phones blocking views (thanks to the theater’s strict policy) and courtesy of well-behaved guests (you could hear a pin drop).
For two hours (with no intermission), I experienced perpetual goosebumps as The Boss shared his soul by way of beautiful prose, quiet song rendition, theatrical storytelling, stand-up comedy, monologue delivery and rousing acoustic versions of his most famous tunes.
The whole thing was mind-blowing, but if I had to identify highlights, I’d say the joy with which he spoke of his 92-year-old mother (who currently battles Alzheimer’s); the crowd enthusiasm in response to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”; the first few piano tickles of “Tougher Than The Rest” and the duration of the time his wife, Patti, joined him on stage (two songs, near the middle).
His self-deprecating tone shows a man more humble than necessary, yet eternally endearing. Though he may never have worked in the factories (as he points out early in the show), he’s done his time for America a million times over.
I feel incredibly grateful I got to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event, which still simmers to life in my subconscious this many days later.
I travel a lot—both for business and leisure—and though I always pack plenty of reading material, I’ve noticed that doesn’t stop me from seeking out great bookstores wherever I land.
There have been times when the task wasn’t so easy. Once I was in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina with hours to spare before my flight home and I’d already finished every book I’d brought along on the trip. Not wanting to pay premium prices at the airport, I walked up and down the main streets looking for a bookstore, but had no luck. I ducked into a visitor information center and the host told me they unfortunately didn’t have any more bookstores in the area. She recommended I go to a drugstore for a magazine. I thanked her and kept walking. Soon, I found the public library. I entered and asked the librarian if it was indeed true there were no shops in the immediate vicinity. She regretfully confirmed there wasn’t, but when I told her of my predicament, directed me to their used library book sale where I scored two 50 cent paperbacks for my journey. Still, I was rattled that a major metropolitan area doesn’t have the demand to keep a bookshop in business.
Coming from Seattle, where independent bookstores like Elliot Bay Book Company and Third Place Books thrive, I’m spoiled with many places to explore. The following are five of my favorite U.S. bookshops outside of my own city.
City Lights (San Francisco)
I first discovered this gem during a girls’ night (seriously) with a few local friends back in 2011. The plan was for us to have cocktails at the nearby Tosca, but we needed to kill some time while we waited for a table. Ascending the stairs to a small nook on the upper level, I thought my friend was right behind me and asked her if she’d read a book that I was pointing to. When I turned around, she wasn’t there, but I had chills up and down my spine. A few minutes later when she made her way up, I joked that the place must be haunted and a local interjected that indeed there are rumors it is. Regardless of the spirits present (or not), the selection is eclectic and vast, just as you’d expect in this city known for its progressive slant.
Left Bank Books (St. Louis)
As a college student in Columbia, Missouri in the ’90s, I frequently made trips to St. Louis for Ted Drewes frozen custard. On one of those journeys, I took a friend along who was a St. Louis native, and she introduced me to this treasure trove. With a focus on community and a knowledgeable staff that encourages you to linger, I find it hard to leave whenever I visit.
Compass Books SFO (San Francisco)
I know, I know. San Fran is already on the list—I just can’t help it if they have an embarrassment of literary riches. And this one is in an airport. Yes, you heard me. The “West’s Oldest Independent Bookseller” is my first stop every time I land in Terminal 2 at SFO. In addition to the usual bestsellers, they have fantastic bargain shelves and unique gifts/greeting cards you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
Tattered Cover (Denver)
Following the U2 tour in May of 2011, my boss and I went out to breakfast at a place we’d seen featured on the Food Network. Full from a delicious meal and with hours to spare before the next concert, we decided it would be best to walk off our pancakes and explore the area. By chance, we landed in this mammoth-yet-somehow-amazingly-cozy independent bookstore. It’s the sort of place where the smell of coffee wafts from the café as you browse and lively conversations among bookworms are abundant. I wanted to move in immediately.
Powells City of Books (Portland)
I’m proud to say that my hometown boasts what I think is the greatest indie bookstore in America (and is actually the world’s largest). This iconic shop where I spent hours scouring used racks as a teenager, looking for (and finding) my next Beatles fix, has the vibe of a classic record store and a selection that could never disappoint. I’ve never once left without making a purchase.
Other stores I planned to include until I learned they recently closed were: Granada Books in Santa Barbara and 2nd Edition in Raleigh. May they rest in peace.
My friend Lew is a connector. She’s worked in public service all of her adult life and her approach to her career and to life are one and the same: live and love. Do both with joy and justice.
When she invited me to be part of a girls’ trip to Vegas with a handful of her dearest friends from across the country, I didn’t hesitate to accept. I knew I’d have a great time.
It was early spring when we planned this trip—we secured plane tickets, reserved accommodations at the same resort property and most importantly, bought advance tickets to Magic Mike Live.
For months we all exchanged Facebook messages and texts, excited about the getaway. Along the way good and bad things happened to all of us. A week prior to the trip, I was laid off for the first time in my life. I was grateful I’d pre-paid for every aspect of the journey so I could still go and not feel guilty about spending money.
Then, three days before the first members of our party were to arrive in the desert, a white, cowardly American man opened fire onto the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival from his hotel room at Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas Strip. He killed 59 people including himself and injured over 500 more.
A domestic terrorist attack right across town from where our weekend was to happen.
Before you send me mail about how I categorized this attack, let me remind you of the definition of terrorism, “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.”
Note: it doesn’t say “only” or “exclusively” for political purposes. So even if this coward’s motive wasn’t political, it’s still terrorism.
Anyway, we were all horrified and exchanged messages that we wouldn’t let this terrible tragedy dampen our spirits. I expressed that I’d like to leave flowers for the victims at some point during the trip and the girls agreed it was a good idea.
Aside from a few hiccups (our hostess, who is allergic, got stung by a bee; Channing Tatum came to the Magic Mike performance immediately after ours so we didn’t see him), the trip was a blast. We shared meals, lounged by the pool and waved fake money at brilliant dancers. We concluded the weekend with a lavish French-themed brunch at the Aria hotel.
But I couldn’t shake the guilt. Every cab or ride share driver we had in the city was clearly traumatized. One girl, who transported victims to the hospital in the thick of the chaos, told us it was the worst day of her life. Another driver was a part-time nurse who was still caring for the injured. Yet another openly wept that he knew he’d dropped off some of the people who lost their lives.
Every storefront, hotel, casino, porn shop, wedding chapel—you name it—had a sign that read “Vegas Strong.”
Here I was, a serial concert-goer, who had just attended my 40th U2 concert a few weeks prior. I’ve been to several outdoor shows and festivals. I’ve been in crowds larger and smaller than the one those country fans were in that night. I wasn’t in Nevada when the tragedy occurred, but I had survivors’ guilt.
Guilt because it could have been me; guilt because there was no disruption to the fun-filled weekend we had in their town; guilt because I hadn’t paid my respects.
So the last afternoon, as our group was wandering and shopping and behaving as girls do as they wind down from a girls’ trip, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was on the brink of tears and filled to the brim with emotion.
I announced that I was going to the memorial and anyone who wanted to tag along was welcome to join me. One girl, who I had never met before this trip, decided to join me.
Our cab driver, another who was impacted that unimaginable night, told us that the spot across from Mandalay Bay wasn’t much to see, but we should go to the Las Vegas sign down the road, where a gentleman from Chicago had planted crosses for the victims. We agreed and arrived to a very grim, but peaceful and beautiful memorial. Candles, notes, posters, flowers, stuffed animals and balloons lined the patch of grass so thick it was difficult to find space to walk. Though we were out in the brilliant sunshine with cars whizzing past and journalists broadcasting live, the mourners were quiet and spoke in hushed tones, with reverence for the dead. Locals were thanking visitors like me for taking a moment to remember. How could we not?
My new friend and I separated to head back to the hotel, as my flight was a few hours earlier. I made the mistake of walking on the sidewalk outside where the massacre happened, glancing over the fence where the stage was still set up; remnants of attendees possessions still strung across the lawn. The negative energy was palpable and pulled me toward it.
The city was in shock and the air was raw with sadness. Consumed by this grief, I said a prayer, shed many tears and composed myself to head to the airport.
I could read at age 2 and 1/2; I could write at age 4. Writing was always my retreat—what I did when I was excited or confused or sad or angry or not wanting to do something less fun.
Cleaning out boxes several months back, I discovered so many of my own writings that gave me pause. Here are just a few of the things I found:
Poems about my stuffed animals, created before I was enrolled in school (so I must have been 4).
Lists of names for my future children (I was dead set on a daughter named Abigail Rhode so I could call her “Abbey Road” for short; and a son named Lincoln Paul, after my favorite president and my Grandfather/favorite rock stars).
Lists of names for the pets I’d have if I wasn’t allergic (the somewhat basic “Champ” for a dog; “Drama” for a llama; “Buttermilk” for a bunny, named for a favorite book). Hilariously, there are no names for cats. I always hated them, even as a kid.
Stories about my Sea Wees having all kinds of oceanic adventures after they “escaped” the bath through the drain (Sea Wees were bath toys—little mermaids that floated on sponge lily pads).
Lists of the fireworks my dad bought for the 4th of July one year, and the order in which I thought he should set them off (not sure he listened, but he was probably glad the writing kept me busy while he barbecued).
Lists of my favorite Beatles songs (divided by lead singer).
Transcriptions of favorite TV shows and film scenes. These came only when we finally got a VCR and I could pause and rewind what I missed—I wasn’t typing; I was hand writing every word.
Fan mail (I kept copies of what I sent, so I could match up replies and see if the celebrities actually read them before responding).
… and the “list” goes on. As you can see from above, it wasn’t all narrative work. Much of what I was doing was putting things in their place. Sorting something mundane or hypothetical, just so I could keep it organized. I’ve always been creative, but I also came out of the womb very “Type A.” I’m a planner. I like to bring order to chaos. I like to fold laundry and organize my closet by color; I get perverse joy from making agendas and researching trips and watching everything fall into place.
So, as often as I wrote stories or essays about my experiences—especially when I was younger—I also made lists. I don’t remember ever doing anything with these lists, other than feeling an immense satisfaction at their completion. And from the dust that’s gathered on them, once I finished them, I must have just tucked them away, or wrote another list a few pages later in the same notebook.
On a cleaning spree when I last moved in 2013, I remember ripping out pages of notebooks that were gibberish or outdated so I could utilize any remaining blank pages. Start fresh.
One of those notebooks I shoved in my hall closet only to be discovered again today. What was inside? The photo you see above. The first week of MTV, catalogued by hand, complete with time stamps.
I have no idea what compelled me to do this nor do I have much practical use for it (I’m sure the VHS that must have contained these gems is long gone by now), but it was a kick to see after all these years.
It’s interesting to look back on my younger self and wonder what she was thinking.
When I was young I wanted to be many things when I grew up: ice skater, rock star, ballet dancer, wife of Michael J. Fox, etc. but when I got to be a teenager, I really had a feeling I’d end up a writer. Writing always came easy to me, and it was something I couldn’t physically stop doing, no matter what the situation.
Of course, when I was young, we still had those things called newspapers, so I naturally wanted to be a reporter. I found chasing stories and asking people hard questions to be an exciting job.
I would take my fashionable Minolta Disc camera (it was green, silver and awesome) to take important photos of whatever I was supposed to be covering. But of course, I had to wait for the roll of film to be finished, so it always seemed like a lifetime before we got the actual photos back.
This is what a roll of film looked like post-developing:
Thankfully, when I became the editor of the paper in high school (it was called The Verdict, because our school was named for a Supreme Court Justice), I had photographers with real SLR cameras to accompany me on my assignments, and they always took better photos like the one below this paragraph. This was the day we got to ditch class (with the journalism advisor’s permission) and head to downtown Portland to catch a glimpse of Madonna filming Body of Evidence with Willem Dafoe. We didn’t meet her or speak with her, but I wrote a review of the film and Jason snapped this great picture. I wonder whatever happened to Jason.
Also important in a young journalist’s life were the obligatory Steno pads. In the days pre-digital-recorder, and pre-laptop, we had to resort to good, old-fashioned paper and pens, and because I’m painfully nostalgic, I kept my favorite two Steno notebooks: the one I had while working at The Oregonian and the other one I received at journalism camp my junior year.
What was a high school student doing at The Oregonian? Working hard, that’s what! No, really, I was living out a geeky dream. I had been chosen to write for a city-wide student newspaper called Youth Today and our advisor was Judson Randall, a senior editor at the paper back then. We met and worked in the actual Oregonian newsroom, and the summer after I began there, I was chosen to attend a journalism workshop in Washington DC, which led to me meet some lifelong friends and contribute to another student newspaper called Young DC.
Apart from the actual fun of reporting news and crafting stories, those experiences marked my first real moments of independence as a young adult: I took a bus (or drove myself) downtown to work at the newspaper, signed myself in with a security badge and taught myself how to use the prehistoric (but at the time very cool) computer terminals. I would walk down to Powell’s Books and research stories for hours; I took my first solo plane ride to Washington DC at age 16 and have been a frequent flier ever since.
One of my favorite articles back in the old days was a piece I did for the traveling exhibit that featured Anne Frank’s actual diary on display. That had been my favorite book since I first read it in 6th grade and I was obsessed with Anne for many years, identifying with her in many ways (though I wasn’t Jewish). When the show came to town I literally got goosebumps just reading a flyer for it, so I knew that assignment had to be mine. I contacted the American Friends of the Anne Frank Center (they were sponsoring it), and they gave me a guided personal tour so I could enjoy the full scope of the presentation. I was moved to tears and promptly went home to write the article you see below. It made the front page.
Less than a year later, I had applied and been accepted to the famous University of Missouri-Columbia journalism school. I worked briefly a real newspaper before deciding that I couldn’t earn a good enough living doing that and became an advertising writer instead. Hence, my career today.
The money is certainly better, but marketing will never take the place of a well-worn Steno Pad.
Being the baby of the family, I was often talked into things that seemed like a good idea at the time, but later proved to be ridiculous.
One example is the Sunday that my sister spent dressing me up as a “punk rocker” when I was four years old. No, it wasn’t Halloween. No, there was no costume contest to attend or pageant for tiny fake whores, just a barrel of laughs at the expense of the littlest Kokkoris, who was more than game to get gussied up in the fashion of some of her favorite rock stars.
In fact, I distinctly remember liking the getup so much that I begged to dress that way on a permanent basis. Thankfully, my mom vetoed that wish and the next day I went back to being Sweet Little Tassoula.
Maybe that’s why I turned out to be such a groupie?
When we’re young, there are always clubs that we want to join. The big one for me was the high school dance team, the Marshall M-Ettes. I had taken dance classes all of my life and was sure I’d make the team at my first audition freshman year.
And I did. But I made 2nd string, which at the time was like being benched on the basketball court (and hurt me deeply).
I didn’t make first string for two reasons: 1) I could do the splits on both sides (right, yes — with practice; left, not so much) and 2) I had absolutely no self-confidence when it came to flaunting my body in front of large groups of people.
I was always an excellent public speaker, and loved being in front of an audience, but dance was different — I was raised in a home that dictated I should not make myself attractive to boys, and much of dance team dancing at my inner-city school was very sexual and flirtatious.
So I had trouble leaving what I’d been trained to act like at the steps of my house and bringing it to the audiences of Marshall High School. It didn’t help that we had a horrible bitch of a coach who did her best to humiliate me every chance she got, or that my dearest friends were co-captains and 1st string dancers, but somehow I got through it.
At the heart of it all, I loved to dance. I would practice with the team every day for two or three hours, then go home and practice some more. I practiced my way to 1st string (finally, in my junior year) and lettered in the sport (a big deal to me when I was 16), then went on to become a captain my final year.
Some of the best and worst times of my high school years were spent with my fellow M-ettes — many who I’ve remained friends with and some who I’ve been lucky enough to reconnect with on Facebook.
Two more items of interest popped up as I was sorting through a pile of childhood papers tonight. My marriage certificates.
These were apparently something we did at the Sadie Hawkins dances in what would’ve been my sophomore year of high school.
The funny thing? I have a memory like an elephant and I have absolutely no recollection of this whatsoever. I apparently married my friend Scott (not once, but twice), though we never dated in reality. Perhaps he lost a bet?
Now I also wonder what else I have forgotten from those events. Did I register for gifts? Wear a pretty dress? Had I known at the time it would be my only wedding, would I have done things differently?
Folks older than me seem to assume that I identify more with the 90s because those were the years in which I graduated from high school and college, but really, I consider myself a child of the 80s. To me that decade was much more interesting and colorful — if given the choice to revisit either, I’d easily pick the 80s.
And what would the 80s have been without Cabbage Patch Kids? I remember yearning for one of these in a way no other toy had previously captured me. They were overpriced, ugly, impractical dolls that flew off shelves most likely due to their clever adoption gimmick. Whenever you purchased a doll, it came complete with its own name and adoption papers, and the company that manufactured the dolls would keep in touch with you if you properly completed your paperwork. In addition, to validate the authenticity of the dolls, you had to find the Xavier Roberts signature on its bum. It was all very important and official.
But these dolls were hard to come by. Not only were they easily out of the price range of most middle class families, they sold so quickly, the company couldn’t keep up with the orders.
I had all but given up on getting one when my 9th birthday rolled around. I carefully examined all of the wrapped gifts and saw that none of them bore the famous shape of the Cabbage Patch box, and I didn’t want to make my parents feel bad by showing my disappointment, so I acted especially excited about a lavender terrycloth robe that my mom presented me with, and rejoiced when I saw the solar powered calculator that was supposed to help me improve my math skills. At least there was cake, I figured.
Then my mom and my sister disappeared into my parents room and returned triumphantly carrying my new Preemie™ and my mom told our guests the story of being afraid to walk it home from Fred Meyer for fear she’d get robbed.
My baby’s given name was Marleen Berty, which I thought sounded terrible with “Kokkoris” so I promptly re-named her Marlena Charisse. Marlena after my favorite character on Days of Our Lives, and Charisse after one of my close friends at the time.
In this photo you can see Marlena with her adoption papers and her first birthday card. She still sports the outfit she came in.
In the 80s I also begged for another toy I never got: Atari, the revolutionary home video game system that pretty much all of my friends had. Instead of giving in to that desire, my parents and grandmother supplied me with a steady stream of quarters, which I rapidly fed to the arcade across the street at the Eastport Plaza mall. My games of choice: Tempest, Centipede and of course, Pac Man (or more specifically, Ms. Pac Man). Below you’ll see a sticker from one of my stationery collections featuring the character.
Above the sticker is my book about Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton. Mary Lou was what kept me glued to the ’84 Olympics and also what made me take gymnastics for the next four years. I had a bodysuit and training suit identical to hers and practiced my winning smile (another thing she was famous for) in my bedroom vanity mirror on a daily basis. I still watch and enjoy the Olympics, but I don’t remember ever liking another athlete as much as I liked her.