Present Ghost

Telling stories



Fixing things

Long abandoned dresses for $2 dollars hang in front of the store windows. The fading garments, now curtains, all passed out of style before I left grade school; one Liz Claiborne denim shirtwaist caught my attention. My mother wore something like it in the early 90s, and it might be in again. For the price, it wouldn’t be much of a gamble, and the size seemed about right. But I left it there, next to a dozen or so grimy stuffed animals gathered on table above golf cleats. I’m not sure if they were for sale or on guard. No price tags were visible. Continue reading “Fixing things”

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In the car

Most of the time, when I drive to work, I just drive. I follow the same blue-green Honda Fit plastered with bumper decals about universalism, hiking, and geology. If I’m not catching up with family phone calls, I’m listening to Vietnamese language CDs and pushing the “back” button again and again trying to pronounce impossible words before 8 a.m.

The other day at a stoplight, I looked to my left and saw a Sikh in his black 1997 Hyundai Accent, sipping on a homemade energy shake. His turban was pressed against the ceiling. In front of him, a salt-and-peppered post-professional man revved his engine and smirked in his Mercedes convertible. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. To his right and in front of me, a woman was hotboxing it in her 4Runner, blaring talk radio so loud that I could hear the anger passing through her windows. The hatch bore a Navy ribbon. The woman to my right sat in an Avalon and applied her perfectly coordinated lipstick in the rearview mirror, sipped her Starbucks, and blotted. Continue reading “In the car”

Taking on [a] Seaside Holiday


This track, called “Voyager 1: Etchings of Yesterday” will appear on the forthcoming Seaside Holiday album Grand Tours. Below, PG takes a moment to ask the band’s founder and primary vocalist Cara McQuate a few questions about the single, writing music, and just a few grab-bag items for good measure.

1. How long has Seaside Holiday been a band?

We began working on what became the self-titled debut somewhere around 2008.

2. Who is in the band?
Sister/brother duo: Cara McQuate and Morgan McQuate. For our live performances, our hired guns are Connor Thompson on drums and Phil Neiswander on bass.

Morgan McQuate

3. What do you see as your goal/direction/influence in this upcoming album?
The new LP is more rooted in an electronic influence. It’s more ambient and ethereal, with a an overall darker sound. I’d liken it to Editors, Ladytron, and Wild Nothing, as far as influences. Continue reading “Taking on [a] Seaside Holiday”

Revisiting The Vercos


“You Loved Me First”

The Vercos began with Andrew and Anne—before they were both Ditlevsons. They met in the back of public school bus number 4 in the late 1990s in Ashland, Ohio, several years before they began to date. Years later, both of them played guitar, and admired each other’s art. Anne once called Andrew “her ideal” boyfriend, and while they were attending the same college, they started dating and collaborating in 2003.

After they performed several shows as a duo, they eventually added Jon Hunn on drums. Eventual lineups included Mike Previtera, Jeffrey Steiner, and Dominic Vercillo, but the band was always jokingly compared to Oasis. There’s Noel and there’s Liam. (It must be said, though, that neither founding party will claim being either Gallagher brother.)

What started out as an acoustic duo turned into a rock band that played together until 2008. They were always tweaking their sound. At any show, an old favorite might have new instruments or verse. This was never one of those bands you went to see because they were your friends. You went because they were just as talented as the people you listened to already.

For now, The Vercos have disbanded, but a reunion, reincarnation, or resurrection has never been ruled out.

Check out different tracks of theirs here:

The Pencil From Outerspace


As I tell my friend that instead of feeling God I feel death, he sips his coffee and suggests we take a smoke break outside.

The snow snows harder. It swirls down and is whisked upward and circled round in the parking lot as we take alternate drags from our cigarettes and blow into our hands.

In the past, I was always finding myself in situations where I was helping the desperate and encountering the most bizarre scenes of need. My calling isn’t visiting homeless shelters or going on church mission trips. My life brings me into contact with the most dejected and injured people so I might have to listen to the Spirit in order to stop the suffering of one person, even if only for that brief encounter.

In the snow, I think of how it stays gray here for so long that when it finally snows like this, there’s something hope-filling about it. Tonight the Super 8 next door is filled with sleepy semi-truck drivers and they won’t be on the road for another couple of hours.

Inside, the waitress is annoyed with our schedule: slugging a pot of coffee and sucking down cigs under the small green awning outside that hardly shields us from the winter wind. But she pours me another new cup of the night’s dregs with a smile anyway.

I think I’m just sad. And alone.

We talk about church and God, and somehow we get on the subject of the collection plate. When I think about charity, I know in better times, I could write a check if I had checks. I could cash a paycheck and throw some money in a bucket, but I know that my cynicism about that isn’t just because I feel distanced from the money. It’s because I’d rather know what it means to really feel charity as a transitive verb.

It’s almost four a.m., and the inevitable drowsiness penetrates my caffeinated nicotine buzz.

I’ve got to go.

Praying the alternator doesn’t fail and that I don’t hate myself for not learning how to put on my own snow tires, I tell my friend goodnight.

We don’t promise to pray for each other or hug or shake hands like they do after Bible studies or grown-up Sunday schools.

My old car glides like a boat in a river of winding liquid black and dusty white. The thick, stubby fingers  my father gave to me are so cold that lighting the cigarette is nearly impossible, but I manage and as I inhale, I see the cherry glow in the rearview mirror from the corner of my eye, and from that same corner and that same glimpse, I’m also reminded that I’m prematurely balding. I am twenty-one with the hairline of an old man.

Early morning gray whisps of white swirl underneath the smalltown lamplights. They capture the flakes all pinkish. The old elementary school to the left quietly awaits news of a snow day. My car’s wheels slide over the pavement.

A tall, thin creature in the middle of the road waits for me to stop. From what I can tell, he seems a little too calm to suggest a major problem, but it’s too late for the regular bar crowd to be returning home and too early for the factory workers to be heading toward this end of town. He’s probably drunk or stoned and lost—or maybe just down on his luck without gas.

I press my foot to the brakes. Slowly, the car skids a little, so I swerve just to the right of this unfortunately underdressed person clad in a thin black trench coat, sopping tattered jeans, and sneakers. A dark, shaggy short haircut sticks to a piqued face and bangs hang covering the eyes.

My window’s broken, so I open the door.

“Hey. Thank you for stopping. I’m, um, looking for Pine Street,” she says.


Her lank and wasted young figure stands shrouded in threads of whitefloss jeans and a dingy white shirt. She could be a pencil from outerspace. She could be sixteen, maybe a little older. I can’t tell.

“Get in.”

“Hey thanks. It’s really cold. I was just in Columbus. I just wanted to get to my friends’ house, and I think it’s on Pine Street. If you could just tell me how to get there, I can walk. The last guy who picked me up just dropped me off here.”

God. God. God! This is the last thing I need. A drugged out runaway girl in my car at four in the morning.

Her hands ungloved and head bare and so wet that she isn’t rosy-cheeked from the storm; she is nearly translucent and the bones in her cheeks come to points at the far corners of her eyes.

She calls herself Rebel, and she doesn’t strap herself in.  She pushes aside my CDs and tapes to make a place for herself as a passenger. I grip the steering wheel, too afraid to ask her why she has hitchhiked here or if she has a cell phone and drive toward the north end of town. Her last ride has dropped her off only six blocks from Pine—they must not have wanted to play this game. Maybe he just wanted to stay on 250.

“I didn’t run away.”

“That’s good. So, do you know the address?”

She admits that she doesn’t but insists that she will know it as soon as she sees this crooked tree in the front yard that she remembers from childhood. She used to come here all the time to visit her friend. I drive the length of the road as she presses her face to the glass and looks for the identifying tree as it begins to snow even harder. The tiny orange spindle on my dashboard hovers above the letter E.

I’ve never been opposed to picking up strangers.  There was the man in North Carolina in the parking lot. Instead of asking for a ride, he just stood in front of my car, and took off his hat, placing it on the hood. I took off my shoes, and he proceeded to take his off as well. It progressed in a silent pantomime with our shirts and socks heaped in small, separate piles in the middle of a vacant shopping mall parking lot at 11 p.m., two men undressing in mirrored fashion. He said nothing at all, and I continued the game with him until he dropped his pants to the ground. That’s when I threw my café apron in the front seat and slammed my door shut, drove home, and didn’t tell anyone.

It always turns out to be a gay thing, and it’s too bad, too. I would have given him a ride or bought him a cup of coffee or a hamburger. That’s why I left. He needed something else I didn’t have to give.

She interrupts my thoughts.

“Maybe it’s the next street over. None of this looks right. I don’t see any trees that are the right shape,” she says.

The car slides forward over a sheet of ice when she points to a house with several cars parked outside. No lights shine from the windows, and she says, “Stop.”

Of all the houses on Walnut, she asks me to stop in front of the only one without a decorative pear or shivering dogwood planted five yards from the living room window. There are no trees in the whole yard, just unkempt, sprawling junipers and spindly arborvitaes lining the housefront walkway.

“This is it. The tree must have been cut down.”

She tries the door handle on her side, but it doesn’t work.  I forgot that I have to fix that too. It broke off when it iced last time and Jonah pulled too hard. Broke the whole system.

I ask her if she’s sure if this is the one she’s looking for, wondering if I’m delivering her to a drug den, or if I should call the police.

She nods but hesitates to ask me to let her out from my side. Rips off some paper from one of my neglected notebooks, still damp with snow from yesterday. She finds a pen and writes her name: Rebel. And a phone number.

While the engine idles, sputtering, I think of the faulty alternator and the finicky fuse, reach for my seatbelt, and she attacks my hand with her five bony fingers.

“You have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. They are such a deep blue.”

Mashing her thin, pale lips to my face, on my mouth and lingering too long, she tastes like nothing and smells like the gray of old snow and the wet of winternight walking. In my hand, I hold the ripped piece of paper, and she says, softly, as one word,  “thankyou.”

I’m out of the car, and she crawls over a mound of my dirty sweaters, dropping two onto the ground before loping toward the entrance of the house.


“Johnny Law” Live by The Peachbones

I was lucky to grow up around musicians. When I was in sixth grade, my brother, as a senior in high school, shifted his focus from alto saxophone to guitar. By the time he was somewhere in the middle of earning his college degree, he started playing with The Peachbones.

Once upon a time, they were said to perform “alt country” and “cowpunk” alongside mid-90s acts like Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, and Wilco. In the second incarnation of the band that I had known—the one with my brother in it—they transformed. There were more distortion pedals and longer solos. For several years, I watched their shows in coffee bars, draft houses, and other random arts centers in Northeastern Ohio. In 2008, Andrew and his wife Anne were relocating to North Carolina, so they got together with every band they had been involved in for a big variety show of reunion acts.

To wax nostalgic for a moment, I must say that this very show holds significance for me as it marks the beginning of my family moving away from each other, both the immediate members and those more extended circles, like those I used to grab seats next to at what was formerly Seattle’s in Wooster, OH. Also, this was the show where I was reintroduced to a casual acquaintance who is now my husband.

I miss The Peachbones, so I’m happy to share this video that captures one of their most requested songs, and I am so glad to know someone out there caught it.

Please enjoy this bit of a throwback for the evening.

Although the band doesn’t play together any more, please peruse their library. Buy their music if you like it.

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