Saturday, October 22, 2016

Twenty-Two Questions

This is not my originally planned post. I sat down last Sunday and wrote a pretty aggressive post slamming the GOP, their candidate, and the people who still support him. There was a lot of the f-word and anger at their garbage person of a candidate. I expressed disappointment in the system, in humanity, in democracy. It was a lot. Then I had a moment of clarity about what I had written. I was having dinner with some of my friends earlier this week. I don't see these ladies all that often (even though I work with two of them). It was fun and we laughed a lot and shared ridiculous stories. During the course of the evening, what I wrote on Sunday popped into my head and I couldn't bring myself to post it. Not because it's not true (it all is true) but because the anger isn't going to change anything. It's not going to change a person's mind if they're already set on a certain candidate. If his own words haven't changed their mind, my anger isn't going to do it either. The amount of obscenities would only make my mother sad.

So instead of being angry today (although I'm still very angry), I'd like to pose a series of questions that have been stomping around in my head during the last few months of this election. Some will make us all laugh, some channel my anger pretty specifically, some are what they are. I don't expect anyone to have the answers to these questions but I welcome your attempts in the comments. And you know, lists always make me feel better.
  1. When did the GOP get so weak? I get that minorities and women aren't their people of choice but when did their rhetoric of hate become the only thing their party is about? Didn't they at least, at one point, talk about their platform and policy? I feel like that used to be a thing.
  2. Does Paul Ryan get up in the morning, look at his collection of blue ties (the ones that bring out his eyes in a way us Democratic ladies don't like to admit we enjoy), and say to himself, "Does this shade of blue make me look less like I'm lying when I say I support our nominee? Or was it the sky blue tie? I can never remember."
  3. When Hillary Clinton did the shoulder shimmy at the first debate, do you think she thought "Channel Beyonce but also give Kate McKinnon something good to do on SNL?"
  4. How many people think having 17 candidates in a primary is a good idea?
  5. Can anyone pinpoint the day it became acceptable to question the patriotism of a family who lost their son to war because of their religious beliefs?
  6. Exactly where are these locker rooms the Republican candidate hangs out in? I don't think he understands that most people don't stand around discussing how they can get away with sexual assault in locker rooms unless they swim for Stanford or play football for Steubenville. 
  7. When did we, as a nation, get so hung up on the word "pussy" being vulgar but don't condemn a candidate who doles out racist, homophobic, and xenophobic speech like he's giving out terrible candy on Halloween?
  8. Follow up question: What type of candy do you think each candidate gives out on Halloween?
  9. Who would watch a fourth debate if RuPaul was the debate moderator and made the nominees lip sync for their lives? 
  10. Does Kellyanne Conway take five showers a day to cleanse herself of the filth she has to go on television and defend?
  11. Did John McCain and every other GOP mouthpiece wake up after the bus video and realize "Holy shit, if I leave my mother/daughter/sister/wife in a room with him he might actually assault them? Now I have to go on television and talk about how much I love my wife/daughter/mother/sister because obviously I do all the time but particularly when it will make me look like I care about women generally. I mean, I do care about women generally but mostly when they sit quietly and don't talk about having freedom to make decisions about their bodies or contradict anything else I say."
  12. Who would have thought that the Bush who would actually impact this election would be Billy Bush?
  13. Does anyone know the appropriate gift to send to the debate moderators for their service to this country? Except Lester Holt - he gets nothing. 
  14. Now that Rhianna is endorsing HRC, do you think she and Katy Perry will make up? I want them to be friends. I don't know why but I really want it to happen.
  15. Is Melania okay?
  16. Do you think Chelsea Clinton texts her dad (after teaching him how to text) every day asking him to make smart life choices? I think I would if I was her.
  17. If Mike Pence and Tim Kaine lived in the same neighborhood somewhere in suburban American and one of the teenagers in the neighborhood threw a rager, which one would call the cops?
  18. Follow up question: How many times would he call the cops in one evening?
  19. Has anyone checked on Ben Carson lately? Is he okay? Does he know where he is and what planet he's on?
  20. Which pantsuit was your favorite? It's the white one right? You don't think a white pantsuit is going to be good with her hair color but it just is.
  21. Who was your favorite celebrity at the conventions? You pick the convention. 
  22. What happened to Rudy Guiliani? I thought being the un-fun Republican from the Northeast was Chris Christie's job.
In the next seventeen days, I'm sure I'll come up with a lot more questions we need to answer. Until then, I'll be over here waiting for my "Icky Trump" t-shirt to arrive and listening to Janet Jackson's Control on repeat.

Happy Democratic Process America!


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Down at the Rock N Roll Club

There's a great documentary called The Other F Word that chronicles prominent punk musicians (which I know is probably an oxymoron) as they navigate the world of fatherhood. Matt Freeman and Lars Frederikson from Rancid, the lead singer of Everclear, one of the Blink-182 guys, Tony Hawk, and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo and musical score fame are some of the dads featured. I saw this documentary a few years ago on Showtime (of all places). It's a great documentary for many reasons: some of these guys came from single parent homes (mostly raised by mothers) or dealt with abusive or absent fathers and their music is an output of those experiences. Aggression, anger, and pain fuel some of their best songs. Then add their own entry into fatherhood into the mix and it's fascinating to see each one deal with having children and what that means as a punk. I can't remember if it's Tony Adolescent from the band The Adolescents or someone else, but I remember a part of the movie where one of the guys talks about having to decide on curfews and rules knowing that A. he had none of those things and B. he did a lot stupid and illegal things when he was kids' ages. Was he being a good parent, a narc, or something else entirely?

This particular documentary popped into my head as I was standing in line and later standing in the 9:30 Club waiting for the Green Day show to start. I go to a lot of concerts; it's one of my favorite things to do. The types of bands I go see tend to be the types of bands that have fans of all ages. Some of that is the appeal of their music; some of it is younger people coming to see bands they like that their parents introduced them to and they get to share in the concert experience. I think the last time I was at a show with only people my own age was The Strokes show I went to in Honolulu in 2002. That might have had more to do with the venue than anything else; it was at a hidden club in an office park that is popular for karaoke when live bands aren't playing. I half wonder if some random business men wandered in for karaoke and instead stumbled on to an unimpressed Julian Casablancas singing some songs.

But I digress.

Anyway, I was surrounded by all ages both outside in line and once I settled into my spot in the standing room only club. When I go to the 9:30 Club I always stand in the back by the sound booth. This is the best place to stand because no one is behind me to push me forward and I can lean on the booth (very important when standing for four or more hours). The only "problem" with this spot is late comers always stand right in front of me and then I have to wait until they decide to worm their way forward to get out of my line of vision. To my right were two friends, a boy and a girl, in their early twenties who, as far as I could tell, should be dating but are not because they're very good friends but I could see that the dude is super into the girl. I also learned that they're Green Day fanatics and knew all the words and danced liked no one/everyone was watching. Also, we were all wearing the same shoes (as were most of the people in the audience). On my left, at first it was a couple, around my age who were possibly on a date night away from their children. They did not seem like a couple who would be into Green Day but I then remembered they were in high school in 1994, the last time Green Day played at the 9:30 Club so they are exactly the type of people who would be Green Day fans. A little while later they would be joined by an older gentleman, maybe in his late 50s or early 60s. I'm pretty certain he picked standing next to me as a choice since A. people have a hard time determining how old I am so that B. if he hit one me, it would be with an appropriately younger woman rather than a teenager. This is how rock show logic works.

To the front - a sea of humanity, spanning from a dude my dad's age wearing an Offspring t-shirt to a smattering of children in their early teens to the legion of people in the early to mid-30s who were probably all thinking to themselves "my feet are going to hurt so bad tomorrow and I have to go to work, but fuck it all, I want to rock out at the Green Day show!" There were a surprising number of people I will describe as "business men" (you know what I mean). I have no idea if they were there from work or were in some way connected to the bands. They spent the show looking official and out of place even as they got into songs. It was strange. My favorites where the kids, mostly around 12 or 13, accompanied by their parents who were wearing Green Day shirts from the 90s. One of the kids, the one who made it on stage to sing the last verse of "Longview", looked like a mini Billy Joe Armstrong. He did an epic stage dive and crowd surfed his way back to where his mom was waiting for him (not joking about any of this). Another kid I saw in line could have been Joey Ramone's little brother. There were a couple of kids in the upstairs section who looked in awe of what was going on around them; I'm guessing it was their first concert. It's the multi-generational nature of shows like this that make me a proud rock fan.

I can say, hands down, this is one of the best concerts I've ever been to. Part of it was the venue; the 9:30 Club is small and intimate. I think its capacity is around 1200 for standing shows and the Green Day show sold out in a record five minutes. I was one of those people who logged on at 8:30 in the morning the day the tickets went on sale. When I refreshed at 10 am, I had my ticket in 2 minutes. Apparently, I'm the only one who had that experience (sorry guys who didn't get tickets...but not really). This was my first Green Day show and I don't know if I can ever see them again after this. The opening act, Dog Party, was great. For the Riot Grrl in me, they were the perfect start to the evening. A few minutes before Green Day was set to start, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" started playing and incited an epic audience singalong for the entirety of the song. If you've never been in a rock club with a thousand of your closest friends singing along to this song, you have not lived. This was followed by The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" and a person in a bunny suit taunting the audience and getting everyone ready for the big show.

Green Day hit the stage and started with "Know Your Enemy" off of my favorite of their albums (although not my first Green Day album) American Idiot. I've been obsessed with this album since it came out and love the Broadway musical version equally. It was one of those albums that was so timely when it was released and has remained so, especially if you think of where we are now in the current election cycle. I've been in some very enthusiastic crowds at concerts but never anything like this. The energy, both from the band and the audience, was on from the start and never stopped even through a few songs from the new album people weren't as familiar with (because the new album came out four days after this concert). A big part of this is the band; they have the energy of a band half their age and enjoy performing. They're talented and still have that mischievous quality about them that made Green Day famous (and/or makes them sellouts depending on which camp you belong to). The look on the kid's face when Billie Joe Armstrong told him to stage dive was amazing; that kid will never forget that moment. He'll probably start a band if he hasn't already.

I could feel the music. You know when you go to a concert and you can actually feel the music? Like the drums hit you in the sternum and the bass sits in your stomach and the rest of it takes over and your totally immersed in each song? That was what this concert was like. None of it is because the music is loud but it's because you know the songs and the band and the fans. It's because each person is part of the creating the moment of that show. I wrote a scene much like this at the end of novel (the one that is almost done and I hope to soon self-publish). As I leaned back against the booth in a quieter moment (not many of these throughout the evening), I realized how right I got that scene. There is, in that time before a band comes on stage or in the silence between songs, a second where the crowd relaxes, regroups after dancing or moshing around, and then sucks in a collective breath and waits for the next song to burst into the world. When it does, the organized chaos of a rock concert continues and no one can help but get swept up in the moment.

We weren't supposed to take pictures but I snuck one. I'd say I'm sorry but I'm not since there were people filming the show who shouldn't have been. Green Day will have to forgive us all.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

300: Doesn't that mean something in baseball?*

I think my uncle is playing catcher but is really far away.
Most of my baseball memories involve my older brother, Scott. He's a baseball fan from way back and is the type of person who keeps score and can tell you the intricacies of the game if you ask. He knows the players, has been to most of the major league stadiums in the US (he has to get out west more), and is cool with having a variety of snacks at games. My brother also got the short end of the stick when we were younger because I was a whiny brat sometimes (most times...probably) and didn't want to stay for doubleheaders when we visited Atlanta for the first time and probably several games in Detroit that were "important" at the time. Scott is a really great brother; seriously, he's the best. I hope he would agree that I've become a better baseball fan. I credit him with this transformation entirely.

I generally like baseball but only in person. I can't watch it on television; it's like watching paint dry and doing my taxes at the same time. Nothing interesting is happening there. Part of what I love about going to games is the community feel and the people watching opportunities. I always, and I do mean always, have to comment on the trust people have in one another when passing money down the row to buy a beer or hotdog. That trust immediately evaporates as soon as people leave the stadium but I'll take what I can get. I like listening to people have super random conversations in line for concessions or for the bathroom. I've learned way more about strangers' marriages than I needed or cared to know. I'm not sure what inspires people in an outdoor setting to spill all their secrets but they always do. And, of course, I have a hard time not listening. It's virtually impossible. If you don't want me to know, don't talk loudly about it in line for the restroom. Among my favorite things about going to Nationals games during the week is people who come from work but don't change out of their suits. There's something so weird and so very DC about a dude in a suit and bow tie watching baseball.

Of course there are the snacks. One of my earlier trips to Nats Park this season inspired a short story about nachos and I've recently discovered the deliciousness of beer and donuts as a combo. Who knew? Inevitably, and this only happens when my brother is with me, we sit behind a family or group who eats everything you can order at the concession stands. I can't even imagine how much money they spend. I also assume that when it's little kids at least one of them pukes on the way home. You're welcome fellow Metro riders!

When I started writing this blog 300 posts ago (this is the 300th post), I did it because I was looking for a way to stay connected to my friends and family when I moved very far away from them. What I didn't expect was the adventures I would go on or the experiences I would have once I started writing. A joke amongst my friends is that whenever we do something it's going to end up here; there's a bit (a lot) of truth to that. What I've come to enjoy most about writing this blog is that I get out and to things that I might not normally do, partially because I'll have something to write about and partially because I never know where inspiration will come from. I've chronicled adventures in California, France, the DC area, and everywhere in between. I've covered concerts, playing tourist, and baking recipes favored by Sylvia Plath. I've talked about weight, fitness, and living while also being female.

Back in May, I started taking yoga classes. I wanted to add some variety to my fitness regime and focus on strength in a way that didn't require me to go to a traditional gyms. I've had negative experiences at traditional gyms and figured a yoga studio would be a more welcoming place. That has absolutely been true of my experiences this summer. I feel like I'm getting better, able to hold poses longer, stretch more, and do certain poses I wouldn't have thought I could do. I'm nowhere near doing inversions but I have started the steps to get there. It's a practice which means there's process and I love process. And yoga has led me to something I have never done before.

I have never been anyone's baseball sherpa.

My brother plays this role, initiating new people into the wonderful world of baseball. He knows all of the things and I know enough to be dangerous and possibly win at pub trivia. But Scott was not with me last Sunday when I attended the last Nats home game of the regular season. It also happened to be yoga day at the stadium. My friend, Emily, was and she has never been to a baseball game before. Emily got me into yoga and I've started her journey into baseball. In addition to getting to watch a great game, we also had the opportunity to take a yoga class on the outfield following the game. I've never been on the field at any major league stadium so yoga has given me yet another new experience.

All in all it was a great day for baseball. My seat mate other than Emily was a little girl, Piper, who is a Nats fan and season ticket holder. When she sat down just before the game started, she turned to me and said, "I just want to warn you: I cheer loudly and shout a lot when the game gets good." I knew we would become fast friends after that. Piper did not disappoint in the cheering department. She and I chatted on and off throughout the game; she reminded me of a my brother except female, younger, and less jaded about life. Her mom was keeping score the whole time so I know this girl will grow up to be a young woman who appreciates baseball because she enjoys it not because there are boys. She also told me about meeting Jayson Werth (our favorite player) and Bryce Harper.

We got to teach Emily the traditions of baseball like the 7th inning stretch and throwing peanut shells under your seat and very Washington baseball traditions like the Presidents' Race. We also made it onto the scoreboard during the dance section; Piper and her mom were dancing and we were on the screen by default. We discussed one of my favorite topics to discuss at games - what would your walk up music be? My dad, who was not present, won a signed jersey from the jersey auction and we got to see his name up on the scoreboard too. For her first game, Emily experienced 100% more things than most people do in their entire lives of going to games. The only things left for her to experience would be catching a ball or throwing out the first pitch. I'm convinced I may have done my baseball sherpa job too well and have now set the bar way too high for future games.

The yoga class was definitely not the beginner class we thought it would be. Had I not started yoga over the summer I probably would have quit five minutes in but I didn't. I focused my practice and did what I could, following the jumbled instructions of the instructor. I tried a new pose, flamingo pose (a standing balance pose) I enjoyed very much. My balance is getting is definitely an area I see improving in and out of class. Outfield grass is wonderful; the smell is all the best parts of mowed grass and it's soft and fluffy. It's not great for yoga but I could have napped out there and been perfectly content. Being on the field was a great experience and I hope to be able to do this again.

(PS - did you know there is a pose called a Garland pose? It's a hip-opening posed and is said to come from the traditional flower garlands used in religious ceremonies.)

I can honestly say that 299 posts ago, I would have never, ever considered the idea of doing yoga at baseball stadium with a large group of strangers just for fun. Hell, I wouldn't have even worn my yoga clothes in public for that long before questioning my life choices. Athleisure wear is not a trend I'm hugely fond of most of the time. If I've learned one thing writing this blog it's that you just have to put yourself out there and do things. There's a lot of really cool stuff out there and I look forward to another 300 posts finding those things and sharing them with you.

Emily took this picture and I believe called me "sweet."

*300 does have something to do with baseball: a batting average of .300 or higher is considered to be excellent (anything over .400 is perfect). There's also "the 300 wins club" - a group of 24 major league pitchers who have won 300 games. The Baseball Almanac website has an easy to read version of the list along with some fun facts about some of the pitchers have earned this distinction. Only four pitchers have been added to the list since 1990. I also read that many sports commentators today don't believe there will be an addition to the club in the foreseeable future.

Photos by Emily and I

Friday, September 23, 2016

The 299th Post: 1997 Called. It wants its Doc Martens back.

I graduated from high school in 1997. Of course this means that my 20th reunion is fast approaching. I've never been to a reunion before so I have no idea how reunions actually work. Here's what movies have taught me:
  1. The reunion will take place at the high school and have an open bar despite the fact that most high schools have zero tolerance policies.
  2. The mean girls will finally get their just desserts (or whatever awkward, old-timey phrase you'd like to use) at the hands of the class weirdos or outcasts who are now wildly successful and amazing. Of course, the weirdos were always amazing and now everyone knows it.
  3. The mean girls will also be married to their high school sweethearts and have lots of babies. They're all unhappy and drink lots of chardonnay (white for rich, bored, white women). The husbands are douche-y and will try hard to hook up with a former classmate for no apparent reason.
  4. The outcasts/weirdos are single and awesome but at least one of them (maybe more) secretly hopes to reconnect with their crush from high school and run off together. This is despite the fact that the high school crush is an incredibly disappointing human being. And PS, he probably always was.
  5. You will be judged for everything even if you're a normal person, living your best life.
  6. At some point, a random assassin will follow one of your classmates to the reunion and said classmate will kill the assassin with a ballpoint pen given to him by another classmate who is now a successful banker or real estate agent (or some other profession that your 17 year old self would find depressing). You will help your classmate move the body to the boiler room and then come to terms with the fact that your classmate is also an assassin and drink more to dull the fact you just witnessed someone being murdered by a ballpoint pen. 
  7. You'll then realize that your high school has a boiler room and become convinced that Freddy Krueger lives there and you're terrified he will now haunt your dreams. (This did not happen in any movie about a high school reunion; Freddy Krueger will always terrify me.)
  8. Hugh Grant will appear because he's actually a washed up pop star in real life now and he'll sing passably amusing songs to classmates while dancing in a way that makes you believe that he's about to break a hip. 
  9. If you don't live anywhere near where you went to high school and you've come to town expressly for the reunion, you'll drive around looking at all the things that have changed since you left. Like how your childhood home is now a convenience store that the now dead assassin is about to blow up in an attempt to assassinate you. (This happened prior to his death by ballpoint pen.)
  10. At the end of the night, you will lead the entire reunion in a choreographed dance that is flawless and everyone loves you and crowns you Queen/King of the reunion (or whatever title there is) and your high school experience finally makes sense.
 (Guess what movies I really like?)

I didn't grow up in Burke, VA where I attended high school. My family moved to the area when I was in the seventh grade. Lots of my classmates had been in school together since kindergarten but thankfully, this area is where the military and government is so many of classmates were like me and came to Burke at some point during our high school years. I didn't hate high school but I didn't love it either. Most people didn't like high school or if they did, they went to one of those magical high schools where everyone gets along and there are no cliques and the most popular boy in school dates the art girl. The mascot is also a unicorn and everyone has perfect hair. This place does not exist. My high school was big; my graduating class had 600 people in it. I was a theatre kid and I understood how high school worked (thank you John Hughes) so I stuck to my people. My favorite memories from high school involve my theatre family; they were good people then and they're good people now. Through the wonders of Facebook, I keep in touch with many of them. They're leading cool, interesting lives. It makes me happy.

My parents didn't return to Burke when the Army brought them back to Burke before my dad retired. They live about 45 minutes south of Burke now and I live in Arlington so none of us have spent that much time in Burke for the last say, 15 years. All of that changed this summer. My mom injured her ankle pretty severely and is staying at a physical therapy center in Burke. It happens to be directly across from our old neighborhood. I drive past my high school on the way to visit her at least 2-3 times per week. I've spent more time in Burke in the last six weeks thank I have since I graduated from high school. It's weird to be back. It's made weirder still by the fact that the big '17 is up by the football field. It's a constant reminder that I'm old.

Yes, this is the photo of the '97 from my yearbook. Yes, I have my senior yearbook just lying around.

I assume that my extended time in Burke this summer/fall is life's way of reminding me of the passage of time or the good things from my teen years. I've enjoyed dining at all the restaurants we used to go to back in the day. (Reminder: you can only use the phrase "back in the day" if you're over 25.) The owners at Spartans still remember my parents despite the fact they haven't regularly dined there since 1998. It's comforting in some ways. Some things change but just as many stay exactly the same.

My high school looks much like it did when I went there, at least from the outside. In addition to the senior class year sign, the bruin is still greeting everyone. I assume he's only made of paint now, layers and layers of paint. The LBT sign is there too. That sign went up during my tenure as theater Business Manager. I spent many an afternoon putting up the sign and organizing the letters. We never seemed to have enough of certain letters like "I" and "R." Anytime I see the guy changing the movies at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, I think back to my sign days and feel a little bad for him.

A few weeks ago I was at a concert (Cheap Trick, Joan Jett & Heart - Joan Jett was terrible, the other two rocked it) with Anita, one of my friends from high school. Actually, Anita was one of my first friends when I started at our school in seventh grade. Anyway, she asked me if I wanted to be added to the 20th reunion Facebook page. Apparently, that's how reunions are organized now. I told her to add me to the group. So far the only suggestion that I hope doesn't happen is that the reunion has the same theme as our prom. The theme was "In Your Wildest Dreams." (I had to look it up; I didn't just know that.) Why was our prom theme a Moody Blues song? It was 1997; we couldn't have come up with anything else? Maybe a better theme would be "My Mom Threw Away My Doc Martens & Other Things That Make Me Long for 1997." It's more realistic and probably more in line with what most of us feel about our high school years. My mom may have thrown away my Doc Martens; this is a point of contention between us and has been since 1998. She thinks I took them to college with me and someone either borrowed them or I lost them. I'm not sure how one loses shoes but this is probably an argument I will never win.

Anyway, I think we should skip repeating our prom theme and make the reunion exactly like what I did for Homecoming that year. Instead of going to the dance, my friends and I decided to dress up (in Homecoming appropriate dresses) and go bowling. Yep, we went to dinner first and then went to Bowl America. After bowling we ended up at one of our houses to watch movies. I believe they were Molly Ringwald movies but my memory isn't that great. That sounds like a super fun reunion to me. We can all get dressed, no one needs to wear uncomfortable shoes, and it's so much fun. Bowling also involves alcohol, junk food, and the possibly of making poor life choices - everything a reunion needs.

Get planning, reunion committee. There's a reunion committee right? 

You're welcome.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Road to 300: For those about to rock

AC/DC is not my band. That's not to say that I don't enjoy AC/DC's music. They're just not my band. I've been thinking a lot about this concept since the third from last episode (is there a term for that?) of Showtime's Roadies. The episode, "The All Night Bus Ride," was probably my favorite episode of the season followed closely by the last episode. You might think that means I didn't enjoy Roadies but the exact opposite is true. I enjoyed this show more than I thought I would and more than it might deserve. And yes, I know Showtime agreed and the show will not be back for another season. Their decision doesn't lessen my Roadies love; I totally understand why the show is not coming back. I might even agree with some of the reasons. But at the end of the day, Roadies hit me hard so I have to at least talk a little bit about it.

In the episode "The All Night Bus Ride," the crew is on the bus to the next gig, a long overnight drive perfect for storytelling and music. I have zero idea of what happens on tour buses; I suspect this is part of the charm of this show for me. I'm in the middle of finishing my novel. Part of the plot revolves around my protagonist, a travel writer who writes about music, joining a famous rock band on the road for the last part of their tour. Band tour buses fascinate me and this episode of the show is the only one where we really spend time on the bus. Phil, the band's road manager, settles in to tell the group the story about how he became "King of the Road." He wasn't always in music but a chance encounter with Ronnie Van Zant from Lynyrd Skynryd changed his whole life. As Cameron Crowe, the show's creator, tells it Phil soon becomes the road manager for the band. He sees them through tough times, getting clean, and opening for The Rolling Stones. The story is based on the actual band (Crowe covered them when he worked for Rolling Stone). Throughout the story, Phil is able to humanize a rock band in a way that makes you wish for a different ending for Ronnie Van Zant (he die in a plane crash in 1977) but you know it's not going to happen.

Phil describes Skynyrd as "his band." The way he talks about them is not the way that a casual fan or even a very involved fan talks about a band. It's the way a religious person talks about their beliefs or their deity. The story leads up to two events: the band opening for The Rolling Stones and Phil's last stand with the band on tour in Japan. In describing the band opening for The Rolling Stones (which is one of the hardest jobs in music), Phil describes a band who was so passionate about what they were doing and the music they were singing that they went for it. They were better than the headliner.
As Phil puts it, "On any one day, any band can be the greatest band in the world."

There's a lot of other stuff happening as Phil tells his tale. I won't go into any of these things since it's worth it to watch the season and let this episode unfold where it does. The episode includes an acoustic version of the Skynyrd song "Simple Man" by the road crew. I don't know that Phil convinces us that The Stanton House Band (the show's band we barely see) is anyone's Lynyrd Skynyrd but I'm fine with that.

I've listened to the original version of this song on repeat pretty heavily since the episode. Lynyrd Skynyrd is also not my band, by the way, but I'm digging this song right now. I think a lot about music and I like to talk about music even if no one wants to listen. So who is my band? How does one figure out who their band is? Phil doesn't give us a list of things that have to occur in order to determine if a band is your band. I sort of wish he had as I love a list. But that's not particularly rock and roll. Maybe it's because the experience is different for everyone. Not all of us meet famous rock stars by chance and end up as their road manager. This isn't the 1970s when things like this actually did happen (at least according to Cameron Crowe and he knows). What makes a band yours?

I could think of it in terms of physical things: seen them in concert (multiple times), own their entire catalog, own and/or read a biography about them, follow them on social media but these things all seem like the things any fan could do. Do you have to be a Band-Aid like Penny Lane in Almost Famous or a groupie like Natalie on Roadies? I don't think so. Is it that you can't imagine a day going by where you wouldn't listen to their music? Maybe you don't listen to them everyday but the idea that you could and that you would is there or that the music just sort of goes around with you at all times. As Phil describes it on Roadies, it just happens so he's totally unhelpful in my quest to figure this out. 

Maybe it has to do with the way in which a person discovers a band. In Phil's case, he meets Ronnie Van Zant and the rest of the band at a time in his life where he thought he knew what he was going to do (work for his dad, stay in his small town, raise a family). It's not just the lifestyle of the band but he gets the message behind their music and sees how hard they work to produce their albums. The band starts to feel like family to him; you can see it even more when he talks about walking away from the band and the eventual death of Van Zant and others on that plane. This was my favorite hour of television in a very long time (not counting my experience with Stranger Things this summer). If finding your band is about actually finding them, I guess I'd have to say Big Star or The Smiths would by my band. They're two bands that I "discovered" entirely on my own rather than liking them because my older brother or someone else (usually my aunt or one of my uncles) said, "hey you might like this."  Of the two, I'd say Big Star is the one. Not because it's cool to be a Big Star fan but I truly love them. I rarely go a day without listening to at least one Big Star song (at least in the last five years) and I get excited when I hear one of their songs out in public or referenced somewhere unexpected. I was super excited when my tweet of Pumpkin and a recent release of a live album was retweeted by their account (run by their studio and the sole living member of the band, Jody Stephens). 

As Paul Westerberg sings in "Alex Chilton", "I never travel far without a little Big Star" which is 100% true in my case. I think that's really what Phil is talking about with finding your band; you carry the band around with you no matter where you are. They're just a part of the person you are. That's true for Phil and Lynyrd Skynryd and it's true for me and Big Star.

While I'm sad Roadies won't be back for another season, I'm glad I had this summer with them. The whole season felt like a summer concert; breezy, slightly dizzying like you've been out in the sun too long and maybe had one two many concert beers, and a little maudlin when you realize all good things, including summer tv and concerts, must come to an end. 

PS: I thoroughly enjoyed the AC/DC concert this weekend. While Axl Rose wouldn't have been my first choice to fill in on vocals, he didn't suck AND created one of the weirdest onstage dynamics I've ever seen. I don't know if he and Angus Young don't get along or if their personalities are just too big to be on the same level of the stage at the same time but something was up with them. Axl did his famous shimmy and also spent time dancing like Claire and Allison in The Breakfast Club; it was odd. It was also very exciting to see Dave Grohl in the audience, air drumming away as God or whichever higher power you ascribe to intended. So AC/DC may not be my band but they put on a good show (which includes cannons) and I'm pretty certain more than half of the people in attendance would tell you that AC/DC is their band.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Road to 300: National Writing Date: Mystery Cake

I begin fall by participating in National Writing Date. It's a great opportunity to take a break from my current writing projects (my novel, technical writing at work, witty blog posts about lady parts) and have a little fun. Enjoy this year's entry entitled "Mystery Cake." 

Lily found the recipe by accident. Her grandmother’s handwritten recipe book was a favorite of hers. When she wasn’t at the bakery or making goodies for her side business at the farmer’s market, she loved to spend time with the book, tracing her grandmother’s even script and inhaling the scent of cinnamon and nutmeg. The smells were faint but always present, permanent reminders of recipes past. Lily grew up making most of these recipes; the ingredients and instructions were as much a part of her life as breathing and walking. Banana bread, blondies, pumpkin cookies, peach pie with the perfect pie crust, blueberry coffee cake, German chocolate cake; each recipe evoked a memory for Lily. Each recipe made her happy.

She loved these recipes like they were family. When she was at work making yet another batch of petit fours or some other complicated confection, she let her mind wander to the simplicity of banana bread or the flavor combination that was the pumpkin cookies (with her own addition of brown sugar frosting). Macarons and eclairs could be such temperamental little guys; the perfectionist in her and the perfectionist in the desserts didn’t always play nicely. Where she to live the rest of her life never making another petit four again, Lily would be a happy woman.

The new recipe surprised her. It literally fell into her lap. She thought she knew every piece of the recipe book. She sat in the window seat in her living room, flipping through the recipe book. Lily was looking for a little inspiration. Her farmer’s market project was going like gangbusters, but she wanted to introduce a new recipe for the fall season and was stumped. Her standards for this time of year included banana bread, two types of pumpkin bread, various apple desserts and breads, and pumpkin cookies. She also made cookie bars by the trayful; she couldn’t bake them fast enough. But she felt something was missing. Then this recipe fluttered into her lap.

She picked it up carefully not wanting to damage the fragile paper. It was folded over and yellowed with age. Lily could also see the spots of use. That was a sign of a great recipe; smudges from oil and other ingredients showed the love a baker had for it. Lily carefully unfolded the recipe, seeing it was cut out from a newspaper. The date read February 12, 1930. She didn’t know which paper it was from; no name appeared anywhere on the page. In the margin, there was a name written in cursive script “Mrs. Gibson.” Lily had no idea who Mrs. Gibson was. The handwriting was similar to her grandmother’s but she couldn’t be certain. Along the bottom of the page, her grandmother had written (she was sure of the handwriting) “Use vanilla buttercream frosting or cream cheese frosting if you must.” Lily laughed at the “if you must”; her grandmother had never liked frosting despite the fact that she made excellent buttercream. Lily could hear her grandmother’s voice as she read those instructions. Her grandmother had also written another note on the back of the paper: “Make for Pop’s birthday - favorite cake.” Pop was Lily’s great-grandfather. She didn't remember him except from pictures; he died a few months after she was born. 

The recipe was an odd one; it was called Mystery Cake. She scanned the ingredients: oleo, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, flour. It looked like a normal spice cake recipe. Then she saw it, the last ingredient on the list. Canned tomato soup.

Lily had never heard of using canned tomato soup in a cake. Would it taste like tomato sauce? Tomatoes are fruit so maybe it added sweetness. Would the cake be red? Personally, Lily found tomato soup nauseating. It tasted like it didn’t know if it was a fruit or a vegetable. The only way she’d ever been able to eat tomato soup was with grilled cheese. Something about the cheese and bread balanced out the weird tomato taste of the soup. Lily grabbed her laptop off the coffee table. She opened up Google and typed in “mystery cake.” Lots of hits but none that included tomato soup. She added “tomato soup” into the search and finally a few helpful links appeared, including an article about Sylvia Plath and baking. Lily quickly learned Mystery Cake or Tomato Soup Cake, as it was also called, was a favorite of the author’s. Who knew?

Several of the links took her to articles on the history of the cake from its origins during the Great Depression (aligning with the date on her recipe) and its resurgence in popularity in the 1970s when carrot cake was all the rage. From what Lily gathered, both cakes were seen as “healthy” alternatives to other types of cake despite the fact that this was also when cream cheese frosting got added to most recipes for the tomato cake. She also learned the recipe was the first recipe Campbell’s ever featured on a soup label. Fascinating. Lily knew she had found her new recipe. The mystery cake would spice up her fall offerings.

Surveying her cupboards and baking closet, Lily found everything she needed for the recipe including three cans of tomato soup. The soup surprised her; she had no memory of buying it. The expiration date was two years from now so she felt confident in its usefulness. She shot off a quick email to her booth partner, Hallie, letting Hallie know about the cake. Hallie handled the business side of their enterprise. Lilly was hopeful she would be able to come up with a fun and creative way to market the new product.

Subject: New recipe - something fun

Hi Hallie,
I think I found a new recipe for our fall menu. It’s called Mystery Cake but it’s real name is Tomato Soup Cake. It’s basically a spice cake with tomato soup in place of some of the normal wet ingredients. The recipe was popular during the Great Depression; I found it in my grandma’s recipe book.

Anyway, since I have everything else ready for the weekend I’m going to play around a bit with the recipe. I’m trying it as a sheet cake and as individual cakes with two different frosting options.

What do you think?

Lily got to baking. She opted to use Crisco instead of oleo as the recipe suggested. The sheet cake version came together beautifully. The batter was reddish; more like the color of red bricks than of a tomato. The other ingredients seemed to tame the tomato red to a more palatable fall shade. It looked like a spice cake with no hint of the mystery ingredient. She tasted a little bit of the batter. Lily couldn’t taste tomato at all. Instead she tasted fall and crisp air and warm sweaters. Yes, one lick of batter conveyed all of that. She could only imagine what the finished product would taste like. She got to work making the individual cakes. They wouldn’t take as much time to bake. Her phone chimed with an incoming email as she finished pouring the last of the batter into the individual cake pans.

Subject: Re: New recipe - something fun

Hey Lily,

Tomato soup cake! It’s just weird/normal enough to work especially at our market. The history angle of the cake will definitely appeal to our regulars especially the little hipster children who like everything retro. I have a feeling a few of our older patrons will enjoy this even more. Let’s do a little contest to see if people can guess the mystery ingredient. They can put their guess and name on an entry form. The first winning guess we pull gets a free pastry on their next visit. We can also have people vote if they want it to stay. Why don’t we use the sheet cake for samples and sell the individual cakes?


Lily fired off a quick reply. Hallie was brilliant as always. The contest would be a fun way to get their patrons involved in the booth which Lily hoped would one day translate into them being involved in their brick and mortar bakery whenever that opened. She set to work making another batch of individual cakes and prepping frosting. The sheet cake was cooling and Lily was counting down the minutes until she could taste a little corner of the cake. The aroma of fall, spicy and crisp, lingered in her kitchen. She decided she couldn’t wait for the cake to cool. She cut a small piece from the corner. There was a hint of sweetness but no trace of tomato. She could taste the spices, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, clearly. They were the stars of the cake. It didn’t need frosting, her grandmother was right on that. The samples would include frosting-free options too. It was the only way to really show the versatility and simplicity of the cake. Lily knew she had a hit.

Two Days Later - The Farmer’s Market
“I can’t believe we sold out of everything by 10 am. That has never happened in the entire time we’ve had a booth here,” Hallie sat down, exhausted from the busy morning.

“Do you think the Mystery Cake had anything to do with it?” Lily began breaking down the booth. 

“Could be. People definitely came by to try it and guess. And they stayed to buy. Unless our informal survey tells us differently, I think you can add Mystery Cake to the fall menu. Maybe give it a new name though.”

Lily laughed. “I already have a new name; Pop’s Surprise Cake. It was my great-grandfather’s favorite cake according to the note my grandma left on the recipe. I think he’d like having something named after him.”

“Works for me. Let’s get all this packed up and out of here. I have all this free time back in my day. I feel like should do something really frivolous.” Hallie folded up their booth sign.

“Let’s pick a winner before you run off and I don’t know, buy expensive shoes.” Lily knew that was Hallie’s definition of frivolous.

“Good idea. Let’s see what we’ve got in here. I hope someone gets it right. This one says “applesauce.” Next we have “licorice.” Not even close.” Hallie read through ten more entries, all of them wrong. Other guesses included pumpkin, brown sugar, cardamon, allspice, and apples.

“You try, Lily. Maybe you’ll have more luck.” Hallie handed the box to Lily.

Lily pulled the next entry. The handwriting was a little shaky, but still legible. “We have a winner! This man guessed tomato soup.” It wasn’t one of their regulars but Lily remembered the man from earlier in the morning. She’d seen him around the market before and he occasionally bought cookies or bread from them. Today he bought two of the mystery cakes after trying a sample. Mr. Franks. He’d introduced himself and told her it was the best cake he had ever eaten. Hallie took down his contact information so she could call him later about his prize.

“Lily, there’s a note here on the back. It’s definitely for you.” Hallie handed her the paper.

“Really?” Lily took the paper back.

Thank you for making my favorite cake. My mother used to make this for me for my birthday. We didn’t have much money back then but she always made birthdays special. For years, she wouldn’t tell me what was in the cake; she probably thought I wouldn’t like it after I found out! On my 18th birthday she finally told me and we had a great laugh over it. I would have never guessed. I haven’t had a tomato soup cake since 1955 so thank you for bringing back a little bit of my childhood. I’ll be back for more!

“This is the best note ever. Pop’s Secret Cake is definitely going on the fall menu. I don’t care what anyone else says.” Lily showed Hallie the note. “I never even thought about the fact that an entire generation of people grew up on this cake and probably haven’t eaten it in decades. What a cool find.”

“You’re the baker; I just work here,” Hallie replied, jokingly.

The women finished cleaning up and set up time to meet on Monday to discuss next week's menu and update to their business plan for the bakery. Hallie left to go buy shoes and contact Mr. Franks; Lily decided to head back home and she what other treasures she could find in her grandma’s recipe book. What else had she missed?
This post was inspired by the prompt "Your favorite recipe" from the book "642 Things to Write About" by the San Francisco Writer's Grotto. Follow my adventures of making a mystery cake here.

Friday, August 26, 2016

We Need a Hero

To get you in the mood for today's post, we begin with a song...

Or maybe you'd prefer the spoken word version...

If you haven't seen The Way Way Back, check it out sometime when you're not binge watching whatever it is you have to binge watch to keep yourself entertained before the Gilmore Girls revival begins.

Anyway, I probably shouldn't watch television. That's not entirely true; I probably shouldn't watch television in which I will become attached to one or more of the characters on the show. I can't help myself with certain shows. I become so invested with a character or characters that watching the show becomes stressful. Or I get irrationally irritated with a character because he or she makes a choice I deem is a bad one. My poor neighbors have heard me yell "Make smart life choices!" at my television more times than I care to admit. And when a character dies? No thank you. This is the worst part of watching any halfway decent show; a favorite character will always die. I believe this is related to being a very dedicated reader; the same thing happens to me when I read a book or series. I become so invested in characters that I don't want the story to end OR I want them to be real. Such is the life of a fan.

Among my invested characters we have Rory Gilmore (seriously wanted to shake her most of seasons 5 and 6), Lane and Zach from also Gilmore Girls, Terry and LP from Treme, everyone on Firefly, Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Detective Mike Logan from Law & Order (before he was Mr. Big). I love Detective Logan so much I watched the movie NBC did featuring him trying to redeem himself or some such nonsense. Mike Logan was and always will be Law & Order. Everyone else is just an imitation.

There are others but these are really my go-to list of fictional friends. I have very specific opinions about them (#TeamLogan) and will argue with other people for hours about minutia within the universe of the show. I would like to believe that these opinions will serve some purpose for me later in life but I'm not entirely sure how that will work. More than likely, it'll just be more information to store away for trivia or when I go to an Escape Room with interns who weren't born in the 1980s and I need to use my knowledge of the era to solve the puzzle to get us out of the room. This is how the world works.

I recently finished watching the Netflix series Stranger Things. I don't normally binge watch television shows even on Netflix. Sometimes I get into a Gilmore Girls binge but that's about my level of tolerance for the practice. I like the unfolding of a show over the course of season. I like looking forward to something each week as I anticipate a new episode. To me, that is the beauty of watching serialized television. I realize I'm in the minority on this. However, with Stranger Things I definitely binge watched the show. I watched four episodes last Friday and the second four episodes last Saturday. It is a remarkable and enjoyable show, made better by watching it all at once.

I don't want to talk about Eleven (who is amazing and badass) or the boys (also wonderful) or Barb (#justiceforbarb) or even the fact that I want to smack the smug off Steve Harrington's face so badly every time he's on screen. No, we have more important things to discuss. And by more important things, I mean Chief Jim Hopper.

Chief Hopper is the true hero of Stranger Things. He is the glue that binds this crazy town together and he is the man that gets shit done. No one else broke into a secret government facility with the cool and attitude he did...multiple times. No one stared down the creepy blonde government agent and dared her to disagree with terms of his plan. No one else faked his way into the morgue to make sure that his suspicions about "Will" were right (this was a hard scene to watch). No one else didn't call the librarian after they hooked up and then thought she'd help him with research for the case. No one else agreed to go with Joyce to multiple locations that could have gotten him killed. And frankly, no one else really believed Joyce until Chief Hopper did. I don't know where that car was taking him in the last episode but you can bet he handled whatever it was like a boss.

Side note: The actor who plays Chief Hopper, David Harbour, is a fantastic actor and is so perfect in this role. He also feels really bad about Barb according to this Buzzfeed post.

If I lived in Hawkins, which I would never do because it is truly a terrifying place to live, I would want Chief Hopper to be in charge and protect our town. Despite his drinking and other poor life choices, he gets into the investigation and gets into some real police work. I love shows and movies set in a pre-cell phone age; everyone manages to live their life and accomplish things. One of my favorite scenes with Chief Hopper involves him and Officer Powell sitting in the library scanning through microfiche. Microfiche!? There are people reading this blog who don't know what that is and probably had to look it up while watching the show. That's just sad. And what about the hat? Normally, I have ambivalent feelings about hats in terms of men's fashion, but the hat is as much a part of the character of Chief Hopper as his cigarette, his sense of humor, and his perpetual hangover.

And let's admit it, he's hot. Chief Hopper is, by far, the hottest dude in Hawkins. I'll give you the cute factor of Officer Callahan; he's cute in a "nerdy boy you date in your first year of college" sort of way. Hopper is the older gentleman you move onto after you realize nerdy college boys will always be a disappointment. Yes, he's a womanizer but I'm okay with this for some reason (normally I would not be) and I've come to terms with it as a part of his character. I want to sit around with Chief Hopper listening to Big Star records and talking about life and love. I don't know why Big Star because I don't actually think Chief Hopper would be a Big Star fan but that's how I feel. 

I don't condone smoking but I approve this image:

Or maybe this is better:

Of course because Chief Hopper is my new television show crush (Is a Netflix show considered a television show? I don't know how that works.), I spent a large portion of every episode suffering anxious feelings because I thought that he was going to die. (Spoiler: he doesn't.). This is what a good character does to us. We get so wrapped up in their life, we can't help but only want good things for them. Television (or a movie or book) becomes stressful. It's not normal. I never felt this way about any television character before I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Was it the shows that changed or was it me?

Chief Hopper & the boys
Smoking Chief Hopper
Hopper and Indy
My Dream Man