I Drank from the Garden Hose – nostalgic poem and story dump. Find more at idrankfromthegardenhose.com


I could have drowned in your CK One melancholy 

and your cheap sunglasses nobody would buy at $30 a pop. 

Each time you glided into my store 

you asked me to watch your kiosk while you ran to the bathroom. 

I wondered if you’d stop at Mrs. Field’s cookies 

for yourself or that chick you met while wondering aimlessly 

through Contempo Casuals. 

Would she appreciate that cookie the way I would 

and hold it as if it were the body of Christ? 

Would she bring you a food court smoothie in return 

and say, “Drink this in remembrance of me?” 

Would she hide the disdain for the gel in your hair 

the way I would? 

I could have been more than the girl 

who worked in the pet shop across the way. 

All those nights I closed the place alone at only 16, 

I could have been the one who got your favorite pizza toppings, 

all the ones I hated, knowing I could pick them off 

and drop them into your mouth like seedless grapes

from a Playmate cooler on the beach. 

I could have been your Some Kind of Wonderful, 

to your Eric Stoltz, only I would have biked 

down that quiet street to make you run faster. 

I could have been some other girl you’d forget 

until it was time for you to watch someone die

or convince someone to move on, whichever came first. 

My first job was in Eatontown, New Jersey’s Monmouth Mall, as was every other teenager in town. I worked at one of those pet novelty gift shops for people who marry their dogs and cats (no judgment). I’d often open the place up in the summer and regularly close it up by myself at night, which I’m sure was illegal, but hey, it was the 90’s. A lot of scary shit wasn’t happening yet. At least we never knew about it. 

I loved working at a store in my Mecca otherwise known as my mall. I needed that opportunity because I wanted to avoid working at Burger King like the bubonic plague. Being elbows deep in burger grease and mop sink water never sat right with me, and I probably sound like the whitest, most entitled priss on the planet for thinking that way. (I did work in a couple of deli’s later in high school so at least give me some credit). Nobody knew that my biggest fear about working at Burger King was 1.) I would have to wait on classmates I despised, and 2.) I would have to count a lot of money and quickly, and I knew I would freeze up like a Push Pop, stick in the ass and all. I have what is now known as Dyscalculia. I don’t like numbers, they hate me, and I shamelessly add and subtract with my fingers – sometimes my toes if I’m wearing flip flops. 

Working in a little gift shop in the mall was perfect because most sales were credit card transactions, and it was never busy enough for me to fumble making change. With that being said, the only thing that would make me want to be a teenager in the 21st century is that we don’t even need cash for vending machines anymore. 

As a teen, I also had a thing for men much older than me. Working in the mall offered more of an opportunity to be around older guys. Guys I would never talk to anyway unless a friend was willing to embarrass me. Every night when I worked in that pet lover’s crack dispensary, I saw this guy who worked in the kiosk in front of my store. He unknowingly channeled John Cusack, but he had Keanu Reeves’ hair in the movie Parenthood. He had to have been well into his twenties at the time, and I knew I had a better chance of figuring out how to record a show on a VCR while watching something else. 

Still, I wondered what it would be like to have coffee with him in a diner at 2 am, if I was allowed to stay out that late. I was used to being freakishly taller than a lot of guys my age, but this guy’s feet must have hung off the foot of his bed. I wanted to know if his lips tasted like Mountain Dew and Parliaments. There was no way he didn’t have a girlfriend, and she must have looked like Justine Bateman when she was on Family Ties. I hope after he finished selling sunglasses at the mall, he got a job in computers and maybe started a garage band that meets up for a bar gig once a year. 

Regardless, Monmouth Mall today is on the verge of economic collapse, and there are many, who once called it home, trying to fight for it. Often the social media response is, “It’s just a mall.” But when the mall is where you had your best and worst bonding moments with your mother, if it’s where you went last minute shopping with your Dad on Christmas Eve, if it’s where you first got a job, first fell in love, got into and stayed out of trouble at the same time? Then the downfall of the mall era can feel like the Earth crashing into the sun. 

All the Pretty Things 

I have become the Lisa Frank rainbow 

I will not escape. 

These limbs, these lips, this mind 

have been rebuilt using what’s left 

of the papers, pencils, and shiny stickers

of too many yesterdays. 

If you look closely, you can see the old games of M.A.S.H 

in my eyes. Study my hands close enough, 

you might still smell the Scratch & Sniffs I tried to salvage 

from notebook covers, spelling tests, 

and my heirloom jewelry box. 

I may have a pink zebra print pencil or two in a box somewhere, 

and one day I’ll use them to write my next unfinished book, 

the one about a much smaller, inkless world, 

or the one about the letters that write, fold, and send 

themselves to the ones we forgot to love. 

When I was young, I wasn’t the notebook, journal, pen, and pencil whore I am now. One huge binder, not a Trapper Keeper because Mom thought they wouldn’t be big enough, a few Bics, some folders, and a pencil pouch with the New Kids’ faces on them and I was good to go. My mother was into the simple practicality of school supplies. Mead, Ticonderoga, and black and white composition books filled our cart at K-Mart every late August. When I wanted the really girly stuff, like the colorful, sparkly, unicorn goodness of Lisa Frank products, I had to get grandma to take me to Jamesway. 

Jamesway was similar to a K-Mart, Caldor, Ames, or Woolworth’s, and I believe it even had a luncheonette at one point. Maybe not, but I miss the whole concept of lunch counters in department stores. My parents met in one, so let’s just say if it wasn’t for the K-Mart snack bar that once existed in Dover, New Jersey, I wouldn’t be here writing this hodgepodge of nostalgia. 

During my two week summer vacation visits with my grandparents, we frequented all the discount stores. When it came to school supplies, I made out like a bandit, and most of it ended up lost in the abyss that was my classroom desk cubby. 

Jamesway was also the go-to:  

  • for oversized neon T-shirts with plastic clips and spandex shorts to match.  
  • for the Get in Shape, Girl! fitness sets that told 10 year old girls they should look like Olivia Newton John
  • the Skip It or the Pogo Ball that meant certain death to a klutzy kid prone to skinned knees and head contusions
  • or for preteen games like Girl Talk Dateline, Mall Madness, and Heartthrob. In reality, didn’t we all end up with the dorky Homers as opposed to the surfers or the hot ski instructors named Joel or Trent? And would we want it any other way? Those games, as fun as they were, sparked our delusions quite early. 

When my grandmother died in 2011, I wrote a poem to put into her casket – a thank you of sorts that no one else could read, and I have no recollection as to what it said. Hopefully it mentioned all the New Kids stuff she’d win for me at carnivals and all the stickers she would buy me at whatever store we roamed – when all the other kids were hitting rocks on Slip n’ Slides and drinking from the hose.  


I bet you never messed up an old lady’s sweater at Burger King

by pounding on a ketchup packet until it burst. 

Did you have an arcade in town 

where teenagers had sex on the pool tables? 

I’m sure there wasn’t an old cemetery with shattered stones 

behind your 7-Eleven, or did your town have a dark roller rink 

hundreds of kids could have named Dad every other weekend?

Did you get to touch a piece of the Berlin Wall when it visited your mall? 

I bet you never had a real Orange Julius. 

Or a pizzeria run by real Italians, when the placemats 

had maps of Italy on them instead of ads for dentists and lawyers. 

I’m sure you didn’t bump into copious amounts of Ben Cooper masks

on Halloween night, nor did you have a homemade ice cream shop

that stayed open in snowstorms. 

I wonder if you ever rode in your Dad’s Buick 

during one of those storms because he wanted 

a big cup of vanilla soft serve. 

Cars aren’t built like tanks anymore. 

Maybe towns are made the same way either. 

Yes, when I was 6 or 7, my extremely underdeveloped mind decided to smash some ketchup packets, one of which broke open and made an abstract painting on some lady’s delicately knitted sweater. Mom was mortified and we apologized profusely, but the lady was so gracious and brushed it off. Thank God it was the 80’s. 

The long forgotten cemetery in a small copse of woods was actually behind a Quick Chek, but I figured more readers could relate to 7-Eleven. A rumor spread for years about a man who hung himself in that cemetery. The noose snapped but the rope stay hung on the tree. When my friends and I would cut through those woods to get to the store, we’d spend several shaded minutes under those trees, trying to catch a glimpse of that rope. Cryptic as hell, I know, and I’m not sure if the story was true. Frankly, it’s nobody’s right to know. There was a time when we didn’t think we had a right to know everything. I just hope that no matter the outcome, that man found his peace, and if that rope did exist in those woods, I am happy no one ever found it. 

Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell, a tall slab of if came to town and stood markedly inside the mall, right near the entrance to Caldor. Small pieces of the concrete were sold in little plastic display cases, and my Dad quickly brought home a piece of history. Now, did a genuine piece of the Berlin Wall stand in front of the entrance to Caldor in Eatontown, NJ? Was a relic from one of the most significant events in contemporary history hanging out in front of a discount store where the working class went to buy cubic zirconia and Fruit of a Loom? I’ll leave that for you to decide. I’m not breaking my old man’s heart since he still has that little rock sitting in a curio to this day. 

But this poem makes one thing for certain. Kids today are not getting the hometowns we grew up with. The arcades, the Caldors, the sweaty Ben Cooper masks, the local legends and myths, and the shortcuts through the woods to buy sodas and candy – all that seems to have dissipated and replaced with Candy Crush, No Trespassing signs, extinct department retailers that turn into seasonal Halloween stores, expensive escape rooms, and steel water bottles that sound like bombs being dropped when they fall to the floor.


What seemingly miniscule details from your hometown stand out to you the most? If you still live in your hometown, this should be a piece of cake. If you don’t, think about what landmarks are no longer standing, what annual events no longer happen, or what rumors, myths, or legends still hold on for the older generations? 

They’re Watching 

The old Little People toys 

sitting on the library shelf, 

with their weary faces and colors, 

watch me as if staring at a couple 

who hate each other, fight 

in the middle of a Walmart. 

They see my new cars, 

the disorganized rooms, 

the second notices, 

the grocery haul for the kids 

who will never exist. 

I question if they facepalm

themselves when I’m not looking. 

Then I remember, thank God 

they weren’t made with hands back then. 

So I ignore the unfolded laundry piles 

while eating Fruit Roll-Ups 

and Dixie Cup ice creams with wooden spoons. 

I look out the window 

at all the street racing Hyundais passing by,

doing 40 in a 25, and remind those little 

fading faces on the shelf  that they’ve got it good 

right where they’re at. 

The old Little People actually belong to my packrat husband who I love so much more than Dixie Cups. But those toys reside on one of my bookshelves in our home, so they are also mine by default. I used to pester him all the time about not letting shit go – when in doubt, throw it out – or at least donate the stuff to kids who are going to question why the little dog doesn’t have legs or why Big Bird and Cookie Monster don’t have arms or mouths. When you’re a 40-something year old teacher in the 2020s, you find yourself explaining a lot of things that are beyond the kids’ comprehension. If you ever find yourself trying to describe a Sit and Spin, or Qbert, or Gobots to a kid today, remember to choose laughter over tears. 

But I get it now. It’s important to hold on to pieces of your youth that helped shape who you are now. The smell, the look, or the feel of something long forgotten but then suddenly dug out from a cardboard box can provide a recharge you didn’t think you needed. 

New Kids 

That one used to be the bad boy 

you knew your father would hate.

That one kind of reminded your Mom 

of a young Franki Vallie. 

That’s the guy who can bench press a Buick,

but that guy would likely give you a puppy for your birthday. 

That one could be in a biopic about the Rat Pack, 

and that guy has a thing for wind and open button-downs. 

He has eyes like water lily leaves in an autumn marsh.

Yet this guy would be the one who’d never take his time, 

but once he has you, he’ll take all the time in the world. 

That’s the guy whose name you knew you’d see alone 

on a marquee covered in lights. 

Everyone knew he’d be the one who would cancel a date 

to take care of his mom. 

This one has the voice heard only by God 

and the girls who married him in front of their VCR’s.

That guy doesn’t wear helmets, makes his own rhymes, 

and tells the critics where to go because opinions 

are like the appendix, everyone has one at some point, 

but its as useless as an ex-lover. 

That’s the guy who puts the ten in “tenor”, 

who sang his children to sleep, 

and would never forget Valentine’s Day. 

That’s the one who never wants to see you go. 

He’s the guy who had to lose himself in lumber and soil 

in order to find his place in the world.

That guy had to play the roles of soldier, cop, 

a mentally unhinged man, all so he could bring back the time. 

A time we all needed to rewind. 

Hello all, I’ve been doing a lot of 80’s, 90’s, Gen X nostalgia writing. Find me at idrankfromthegardenhose.com

A Kmart Story – when all other musings fail, write about a dying department store

I’m about to get off-the-chain sappy over a store famous for its blue light specials and kids’ shoes that fell apart after one venture through the mud — K-mart. Now, I’m not going to beg you to stay with me through this because at this time in the 21st century — the age of nosediving retail, overrated human interaction, inconvenient hard copies, and sacrificial privacy — you may be thinking why should anyone care about an obsolete department store that had a long, prosperous life? Time to sprinkle its ashes in the sea of Baby Boomer/Gen X nostalgia. But if you hear me out, you may look at classic retail Meccas from a different angle.

Recently, New Jersey news sources announced the closing of several more Sears and Kmart stores. Both retail outlets have been on the edge of collapse for years, falling into the depths of obscurity with other classics such as Toys R Us, Blockbuster Video, Caldor, and Crazy Eddies. The latest Kmart slated to close in April is in West Long Branch, seconds away from Eatontown, where I grew up.

Maybe it’s another bipolar-ish, midlife crisis thing, but I find myself to be remarkably depressed over this. The last Kmart I walked into was in West Orange in 2018. I think I needed a feminine product a-sap, and it was the cheapest place closest to my job at the time. Regardless, I can’t help but feel, yet again, a significant factor that contributed to my upbringing is being taken from me.

Trips to Kmart with my parents were some of the earliest bonding times I can remember at this point. Here is what I have. This is what the 2020’s are not going to take away from me.

I have the shopping trips when I would hide underneath the round clothing racks and annoy the hell out of my mother.

I have the kiddie pool I picked up with my Dad, how it barely fit in the back seat of his red Buick, how I sat underneath its blue plastic on the way home like it was a canopy keeping the sun from heating the faux white leather seats.

I have the school clothes that were put on layaway, the agony of waiting to wear them, the anguish over being made fun of because they came from K-mart.

Mom purchased random water guns and action figures for my brother and I just because we were significantly better behaved than most of the other kids in the store.

But I also have the time when I wandered too far away from my mother, cried for a cashier to call for her over the intercom, only to see her blonde, blue-eyed, porcelain face smiling at me seconds later. No matter what, she knew how to find and save us.

Kmart was a time for friends too. I’d go shopping with my friends and their mothers once in a while, and I’d stare in awe at their different shopping habits. For a brief amount of time, Kmart wasn’t synonymous with particular classes of people. Everyone shopped there. But much like the Walmarts of today, Kmart shoppers often made it clear where they stood in life by what they bought, how they shopped for it, and why they thought they needed it.

Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman — “Kmart sucks.”

I have the kick-ass snack bar! Yes, Kmarts had snack bars at one point. I’m not 100% sure the snack bar was that great, but to this day, there are few things that give me more joy than eating bad food wrapped in foil or plastic. Plus, I relished every moment of dining out with my mother — no matter if it was day-old, K-mart hot dogs or gloriously glutoness diner food, Jersey represent!

I miss shopping with my grandmother and great-grandmother for dog food, paper goods, and pre-teen board games like “Girl Talk”. I miss when my grandmother conversed with cashiers like they were human beings. She noticed and embraced every layer of people that way.

I have the fact that my parents met on a blind “date” at the same Kmart in Dover. Actually, my grandmother and my dad worked together at one point, and grandma thought my dad would be interested in my mom. So she planned to take my mom shopping. They were to meet “by chance” at the entrance of the store, and my dad (being absolutely no different than most guys on this planet) did a drive-by to see if mom was worth getting out of the car. Well, you’re reading this, so you know how that went. He stole a couple sodas from the unattended snack bar, they sat at a booth, and the rest is history. That Kmart closed in the early 2000’s, and the building was torn down about a year ago. There’s a photo of the rose my dad tied to the fence surrounding the rubble.

Overall, stores, restaurants, parks, and neighborhoods shape who we are in a lot of ways. When we have to see them fall apart, another piece of a simpler time goes down with the steel and concrete. There is nothing I wouldn’t give to get back one more Kmart day with the family. There is nothing I wouldn’t give to get back a lot of things. For now, I will thank God that my non-existent short term memory will keep my long-term memory shining and spinning like those blue lights.