Friday, September 11, 2009


Once upon a time, there was a girl named Michelle (hey, that’s me!) who lived in Shadyside (suburb of Pittsburgh). I stayed there from April 1995 to August 1996 doing nanny duties.

On one fine summer afternoon, I had the day off. So I journeyed into the city to do a little personal shopping, which was a welcome relief from all the other tasks I had to do like grocery shopping and laundry for three adults and one baby. I don’t mind shopping, but only when it deals with groceries. Clothes? Jewelry? Makeup? Rabid ferret wrangling? Yuck.

I enjoyed shopping for one other thing, though: comic books. During my childhood, my mother had a mail-order subscription through Marvel Comics and Dark Horse: The Incredible Hulk, Spiderman, and The Almighty Thor. When I turned older, my interest waned. It returned when my sister’s exhusband gave me a collection of graphic novels he no longer wanted: Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

He didn’t have the full collection. So it became more of a type of scavenger hunt to find them. I caught the bus to Oakland, which is just the next suburb over maybe about five or six blocks, and headed toward a little comic book shop called, Phantom of the Attic. It shared building space with a tattoo parlor. I also liked heading there because across the street, farther down, there was an art supply store. This was still during the time when I created sketch drawings.

Anyway, where the bus dropped me off was at a bank. I only mention the bank because there was always a person there who sold flowers from large white buckets. And I only mention this because I bought some very nice flowers, despite having hay fever, only to have a guy on a bicycle ask me where I got them because he wanted to buy a few for his girl.

I gave him directions, yet to this day I had the urge to give him the bouquet. It wasn’t as if the flowers costed a lot, and what was I doing buying flowers anyway because of my allergies? It’s strange, but I always had a bit of regret not giving it to him if only half of them.

After I picked up what comics I could find, I sat on the squat church wall and flipped through the pages. Then I heard a voice.

“Eck-skuse me?”

I looked up to see about five young Japanese people, about 3 guys and 2 girls, around college age. One was holding a map. The guy asked, “Which bus . . . Ells Worth?”

Ellsworth was a street in Shadyside, about two streets down from where I stayed. Unfortunately, I didn’t know of any bus that headed down Ellsworth at this particular stop. But I knew they could ride the same bus I was going to take. We could all get off at the same spot and walk down to the street.

I attempted to communicate this the best I could. They smiled and whispered and nodded their heads. I think they were more interested in my skin color than really asking directions. Other people were waiting for a bus there, but they had approached me. Maybe it was the comic book too. Japanese Anime is a very big thing in their culture, not just for kids but more geared toward adults. You can see people reading such books on the subway while headed toward work.

Well, they boarded the bus with me but it was very crowded - filled past capacity. Normally, I would have waited for the next one, which usually ends up being more vacant since everyone always seems in a rush to board the first that arrives. Yet I didn’t, and sort of lost the Japanese people among the hoards of pressed bodies.

When I got off, they didn’t. I winced when the bus pulled away. There wasn’t much I could do but hope they asked someone else for directions and got off at a later bus stop to reach Ellsworth Street.


  1. I wonder what stories those Japanese tourists told when they got home?

    "We have fine time in Pittsburgh, except was one crazy dark gray lady. We ask her for directions. She put us on bus, then she get on herself, supposedly show us where we go, then she abandon us! We look up and she gone! We ride bus back and forth all day, never find place we looking for. Crazy lady!"

  2. My first thought was, where were you when I needed a cute nanny for my kids (grin)? Then I kept reading. You got bonus points for the mentioning of so many cool comic books too. All in all, this is another nice story though. You really need to compile all of these wonderful stories into a memoir book and publish it.

  3. Suldog: I'm sure there would have been some swearing sprinkled in too.

    Eric: One memoir at a time, my friend... one at a time. As for where I was when you needed a cute nanny, well... I'll also leave that for the memoir.

  4. MIchelle, although I grew up in rural Mississippi, your reminiscence about your fondness for comic books rang a bell. My favorites were the cowboy comics. Super heroes were good too, but I just loved the drawings of gunfire.

  5. I always wondered what it would be like to be a nanny and be so deep inside someone else's family. I would read your memoir, there's something a "true tale" has going for it.

    Japanese tourists are clever, I'm sure they made due.

  6. This is almost certainly a coincidence, but I was in downtown Los Angeles a few weeks ago and I saw five very old Asian folks on a bus staring out the window muttering "Ells . . . worth?"

  7. so, didja find the missing series?

  8. Snowbrush: I think the artistry is what always pulled the kid in. Yes, there was the suspense of waiting for the next issue. But just looking at those pages and finding minute details were just wonderful for a child's imagination... and adults as well.

    Elizabeth: So many people wanting to read my memoir... I can't imagaine anything would be of interest to anyone...

    Chris: Dang! I didn't know my directions were THAT bad.

    Laughingwolf: Not all of them. I have to recheck, but I think I'm still missing about 7 of them in total.


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