Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ballerina Lawyer

One of my co-workers has a sign on the window of her office asking passers-by what they wanted to be when they were children. I don't remember all of the responses but I'm pretty sure "superhero", "Dallas Cowboy cheerleader", and "Princess Leia" were all posted by my colleagues. It's a fun question to think about especially since so many people probably aren't what they wanted to be when they were children. Some of the jobs we have today weren't even realities back then.

I haven't filled out a post-it note yet but if I did it would say "Ballerina Lawyer."

A ballerina lawyer isn't a lawyer for ballerinas but a ballerina who happens to also be a lawyer. Every time I tell people this is what I wanted to be, they always ask me to elaborate on what exactly a ballerina lawyer would do. Obviously practice the law and dance like a bad ass. This is not challenging if you think about it. I've also had several people suggest that this has all the makings of an excellent television show. Maybe I've stumbled on the next edition of Law & Order. I'd watch marathons of this show on USA.

If I'm honest with myself I've never really known what I wanted to be, career-wise, when I grow up. I feel like I've had what I'd call a "stumble upon career" pathway. I started teaching because I could and I had skills and a background (theater) that the school was looking for at the time. That led me to admissions in a roundabout way which led me to working for my current company. Since I joined at the time it was more startup than corporation, I did a little bit of everything and found that I'm a teacher and writer at heart. That's mostly what I do these days but I can tell you that none of this was on the this when I was five or fifteen or twenty.

If I continue to be honest with myself, I know that I've always wanted to be a writer. I like telling stories and entertaining people. Creating characters and the worlds and places makes me happy. I love words and putting them together in ways that make sense. This is partially why I have dutifully kept this blog going for the past five years. I've written all sorts of things on the Island; some more successful than others. Y'all really like Pumpkin. From what I can tell there needs to be 80% more Pumpkin on the Island. I'm not sure I agree with that but I'll try to give the people what they want more frequently. I feel a "Pumpkin's Guide to Summer" coming soon (she did help you survive a blizzard earlier this year).

But does this make me a writer? I've never really had anything "published" although I have been featured on my company's blog a few times and I tried posting on LinkedIn this summer (more coming soon). Something I wrote was featured in another author's book but I don't know if that counts either. I don't really want to get into a philosophical discussion/debate on what it means to be a writer or an artist. I believe I am one and that has to be enough.

This year I decided to focus my attention on getting my first novel published or at least on the road to being published. I wrote Transient Suburbia for 2014's National Novel Writing Month. I was able, in 23 days, to write a novel just over 50K words (meeting the requirements of NaNoWriMo). It has a beginning, middle, and end. I wasn't able to do everything I wanted to do given the constraints of the month but I ended up with a really great story and characters I love. I've been editing, revising, and adding since December 2015. With the exception of one thing, I feel like I've done as much as I can without getting actual feedback from other people. I'm finally ready to let other people read it completely. I gave myself until the end of the April to get the draft to a place I felt comfortable with sharing. I enlisted four of my friends to be readers.

I have sent the novel out into the world and I cannot take it back.

On one hand, I relieved and excited to see what they think. I need feedback in order to move forward. A certain amount of stress has been lifted. It's readable, funny, and I think a good story. On the other hand, I'm terrified at the prospect of them reading it. Yes, I posted portions of the novel here on the Island so it's not a secret but it's also not the same thing. I'm nervous and I don't get nervous that easily.What if they hate it? What if they think every character is terrible? What if it's predictable? So many negative thoughts go through my head when I think of them reading through the story. I can't help myself. I assume this is why #hemingwaywasadrunk. 

More to come on the adventure that is Transient Suburbia.

Next week the UT Recipe book opens again! This time we'll try a cake recipe many affectionately call "Secret Ingredient Cake" because revealing one of the ingredients may not inspire a desire to enjoy it as one should. Curious? Check back next week to find out what the secret ingredient is.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Because cake and nachos

Something has happened to me that I never thought would happen.

I like going to the gym.

As I write this I'm still in my sweaty gym clothes from this morning's workout. Pumpkin is sitting on my lap like it's no big thing that I probably (most definitely) smell. She just wants attention. I have actively loathed the notion of going to the gym since I had middle and high school P.E. classes. I'm sure that there are good intentions behind gym class in school; teaching physical fitness and health should help make students make smart life choices. However, I'm convinced no one really sat down and thought about gym class all the way through. High school is terrible enough; why did they have to throw gym shorts and running into the mix? I didn't burn my gym uniform but I really enjoyed throwing it away. I was reflecting on one of the most ridiculous moments from middle school P.E. recently as I wrote a new chapter for my novel. I had to take dance classes in middle school P.E. I don't know if anyone else did this or remembers this (if you went to middle school with me) but I distinctly remember learning to waltz under the instruction of our teacher, Coach Martino, and having to perform in a "dance competition." My group had to do the twist. I recall that we added a smooth move where we did the twist and changed positions on the dance floor (aka the Lake Braddock gym) at the same time. I don't know why this was deemed something that 7th graders needed in to do in gym class but it was.

I've always been what one would call an "indoor kid." My favorite activities include reading, staying indoors, being sarcastic, and listening to music. I played softball for exactly one summer in the third grade and never made it very far in gymnastics because I had the habit of spraining my ankle every other week. I sunburn easily (I like to refer to it as lobstering) so outdoor team sports and running were never in my future. When I was in college, I did go to the Rec Plex (our recreation center) for awhile to use the indoor track but I always felt judged by the athletes and sporty people who ran the track rather than walking it like me. And then I got super busy working, going to class, and creating lots of really great theater. The gym and I parted ways amicably and I didn't give it much thought for lots of years.

Two years ago I invested in my first Fitbit, stopped drinking soda (or pop or Coke - fill in with your regional descriptor of choice), and started tracking what I eat and drink. I pledged to drink 64 ounces of water a day (if not more) and go to the gym four days a week (now I'm at five days a week). I obsessively log everything on the Fitbit app. I casually drop my gym habits into daily conversation. I make smoothies and think about protein a lot. I find myself thinking about my day in the context of my treadmill time; when I have to be at work earlier for some reason I plan my gym time a little differently. I take my gym clothes with me when I travel and make sure I have time in the morning to get my 45 minute walk in. I've worn through a second pair of tennis shoes in less than a year; that used to take me ages to do.

I was thinking about all of this earlier this week while I was traveling for work. I had to go to the mothership in Cincinnati for some meetings and to run a training so I brought my gym stuff with me. I've done this pretty regularly on trips for the last year or so; this was a short trip and normally I wouldn't bother on a short trip because of the extra packing space I'd need for my gear. But I did bring it all and when I mentioned that I would be going to the gym in the morning, my co-worker was surprised but in a good way. She brings her ukulele; I bring my gym clothes. After this conversation it dawned on me: I finally figured out how to enjoy going to the gym and exercising.

Here are my observations/realizations:
  • Exercise should not be torture - you have to find something you love. I love walking and being indoors so using a treadmill or an elliptical (although not my favorite machine) makes sense for me. I still sweat and I feel it when I've pushed myself but I'm working out in a way that is comfortable and enjoyable for me. I'm in the process of looking for a quick arm workout for the days I don't go to the gym but feel like I should do something else.
  • Distracting myself while working out is key. Reading and listening to music are two activities I love that also have the distinction of being activities that cause me to lose track of time when I'm doing them. I combined both with my gym time and now I don't even notice how long I've been working out. It's not until the 5 minute cool down clicks on that I realize I'm almost done with my workout.
  • Sweat is awesome. It's good for your skin, gets the toxins out, and helps regulate your mood. I even read some articles on this from fitness websites and magazines - I went on fitness magazine websites. My skin looks great and I'm sure it's a combination of all the water I drink and the sweat. 
  • Finding the right work out time makes all the difference. When I first started walking, I would go in the evening after work. Do you know how easy it is to talk yourself out of going to the gym after a long day at work? It's easier than easy so I switched to mornings. I naturally get up at 6 am anyway so that's my gym time. I think it's a perfect way to start my day.
  • I like cake and nachos. I would rather eat nachos than drink a sugary, high calorie coffee beverage because nachos are delicious and are one more example of why cheese is a perfect food. I don't feel guilty about eating nachos anymore. Why? Because I'm active and I balance nachos with healthier choices. Tracking food has made me aware of what I need to eat and how much - it's not about denying myself things I enjoy. It's about enjoying them in appropriate portions.
  • Accountability can't be understated. I know everyone has their own version of accountability: a workout buddy, your preferred fitness tracker or app, being able to wear those jeans you really love but aren't quite comfortable. For me, it's Fitbit. I compete with myself not with others on Fitibit (even though I do have friends on the app and I see where they are in the daily totals). Fitbit keeps me honest and is always there. I want to track my steps and log my food. I like the badges. I like the encouragement that isn't coming from an actual person.
  • Which brings me to my last realization: this is for ME. When I was younger I probably worked out on occasion or tried to eat healthier because that's what you do when you want to be attractive to other people. Fitness and being healthy was about what others thought of me not what I thought of myself. Here's the thing: I legitimately don't care what people think about the way I look anymore. If they have a problem with my physical being, that's their issue not mine. I feel good, I look good, and it's all for me. 
I have a great sense of accomplishment with my walking especially given the fact that I have walked the distance of the March of the Penguins (70 miles), the Monarch butterfly migration (2500 miles, and my favorite the length of New Zealand (990 miles). As Fitbit so helpfully told me via email, I have walked the distance from the Shire to Mordor. If that doesn't make me want to walk more I don't know what will.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Record Store Day 2016: The least metal thing I did today...

Happy Record Store Day! While we should all spend more time at our local record store, it's nice to have a day when we can come together, listen to some music, and buy some records whether they be special releases, collection fillers, or random records that convince you they belong in your life. I'm not saying we all need a Bay City Rollers album but I know where you can get one if you're so inclined.

This year's festivities took us to Richmond, our capital and one of the most hipster cities I've ever been to. This is my third visit to Richmond since I moved back to the area and my first visit for RSD.

The cast of characters:
  • Anita, four time RSD buddy
  • Scott, my brother, making his second RSD appearance
  • Adam, resident Richmondian, Richmondite (I don't know descriptor) who joined us for lunch and our stop at Deep Groove (his favorite record store)
  • The delightful and not at all record store-y employees at Plan 9 Records, Deep Groove, and Steady Sounds
  • A lady walking a pig down W. Clay Street
  • Our waiter at Galaxy Diner, voted Richmond's best diner in 2015
  • The waiters at GWARbar
  • Me, your resident RSD planner - I wonder if that could be a job? You tell me where you want to go for the day and I plan your itinerary including lunch and bars stops. This could be a thing. I could also match up lone RSD-ers who want a group to hang out with during the the Nick Cave fan I talked to who just wanted to share his beliefs on the Murder Ballads album with someone (which, of course, ended up being me and the shop owner).
This is the first time I've really traveled for RSD; I don't count Baltimore as traveling even though it takes an hour to get there. Going to Richmond feels like going on an adventure and getting out of town. If you haven't visited Richmond I highly recommend it. It's hipster-y in really good ways (bars! coffee shops! neat/weird stores! an apartment building that used to be a dairy!) and beautifully old in ways that matter (original brick streets, gorgeous historic homes). There are colleges in Richmond so be aware of the undergrads who don't know how crosswalks work. Other than that, it's a great place to visit and an even better place to spend a day browsing through lots of records.

This year marks the 9th RSD and my fifth. It's been interesting to watch the growth of RSD over the years; it's gone from a small celebration of independent stores to an international movement connecting people together simply because they love music. In addition to the regular special releases, this year RSD featured some special releases for Disquaire Day, France's version of the day. Money from the sale of some items, like Metallica's Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, Metallica! - Live at Le Bataclan. Paris, France - June 11th, 2003 go to Give for France. Money goes to help victims of the Paris bombings. Several other releases today were recorded at the Le Bataclan. I had no idea how many bands recorded live sets there over the years. In addition to the Metallica CD, I picked up a Johnny Thunders & the Hearthbreakers album from a 1977 show

I like Metallica a lot; not love but genuine enjoyment. I'm not the fanboy my brother is but they're a great band and seeing them live a few years ago was one of my top concerts of all time. People have a lot of feelings about the band for lots of reasons (they sued their fans, they sold out, they're kind of jerks) and that's all well and good but they are the original indie band. They were the first RSD ambassadors and took up the mantel again this year. You can watch their performance from today on their Facebook page. I don't know if this contributed to my brother coming with us today but I'm sure it played a small role in his interest. It didn't hurt that I also promised we'd go to the GWARbar. Scott has wanted to go to the GWARbar for a while now but driving almost two hours to go to a bar seems silly. Driving almost two hours to record shop AND go to a bar is totally acceptable. This is how things work in my brain.

GWAR is a heavy metal band from Richmond that is known for very elaborate costumes and stage shows that include lots of gore and "violence." The band has come under fire for the violence and skewering of political and pop culture figures. Dave Brockie, original lead vocalist, died in 2014 but the band has continued and the Gwarbar opened in 2015. My knowledge of the band is pretty limited; I mostly know the song featured in Empire Records and that members of the band did pop-up RDS appearances a few years ago. To say that I had expectations about this bar would be an understatement. I wanted the drama of a GWAR show and the deliciousness of a high end bar all wrapped together in a nice blood-stained box.

Instead, we saw a woman walking a pig down the street.

Yep, she was walking a pig and a dog down W. Clay Street. Our waitress was so excited by this she had to go out and pet the pig. This was the highlight of the visit to the bar. It's not that the bar was bad; it wasn't. The beer selection was good (Satan's Pony was an excellent ale), they had tots on the menu, the music was great/thematic (including my third favorite KISS song which now seems weird since it's "God Gave Rock N Roll to You"), the staff was friendly and funny, and there was lots of GWAR paraphernalia adorning the walls but it felt sort of like a theme restaurant that didn't take the theme far enough. Maybe it's because we were there at 4 pm. I don't know; something was just off.

We decided that going to the GWARbar was the least metal thing any of us has ever done. However, it didn't really matter that it was not as we expected; it was still fun and a great way to end a great RSD. More importantly, the experience led to the wonderful conversations that always make RSD so great:
  • Deciding what types of animals Adam could walk down the street on a leash or harness. This conversation started before we saw the woman walking a pig but that only made us consider this question more seriously. I think we decided Adam could have a gang of nocturnal animals including a racoon, opossum, and an armadillo.
  • The realization that in 3 of the last 4 RSDs, we have gone to a space themed bar or restaurant at some point during the day. This year's addition, Galaxy Diner, was a great addition to the space family. I recommend the Boba Feta Burger.
  • We think we figured out that the Virginia rest stop right before Central Park (near Fredericksburg) is the reason traffic is always so terrible going down 95S. My father can finally stop asking us this question...every time we talk.
  • Would you take your kids into a bar to go to the bathroom? I guess if it was the only option, the answer would be yes but then would you buy something instead of just being that person who uses the bathroom and bolts?
  • What's the most metal thing you've ever done? This can actually be answered in multiple ways ranging from an actual concerts to various lifestyle questions. Talk amongst yourselves on this one.   
  • The realization that GWAR is really just KISS taken to its most logical endpoint with more blood. I realize that many GWAR and KISS fans will not like this statement but that's okay; I'm not metal enough for any of them so we'll never have to meet one another and debate this topic. 
  • When in doubt of anything in your life, remember this: there is a store in Carytown that sells these wonderful "prayer" candles. I'm sure Saint Iggy will be there for you in your time of need.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Prelude to Record Store Day 2016: If only I could remember equations like I can remember song lyrics

While I was not a big fan of Belinda Carlisle as a solo artist, I've always enjoyed the songs "Heaven Is a Place On Earth", "I Get Weak", "Mad About You", and my favorite "Circle in the Sand." Other than "Heaven Is a Place On Earth," I don't think I've listened to any of these songs by choice in 15 years. However, I still remember all of the words. I was thinking about this as I sat at a Belinda Carlisle concert at the Hamilton with a bunch of other "old" people singing songs from 30+ years ago ("We Got the Beat" was released in 1980 and "Circle in the Sand" is just a smidgen younger, released in 1988). Everywhere I looked, people were singing along to most of the songs Carlisle included in the set. It got me thinking: how many song lyrics do I know?

The number has to be in the tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands. This brings up a second question: What should be included? Does a jingle count as a song? Probably. Does it count if you know most of the lyrics to a song? For example, I know all the words to the Busta Rhymes verse from the song "Scenario" (Tribe Called Quest) and know the choruses to countless songs; do they count? I would say yes but I'm sure other people would disagree and say it only counts if I know all the lyrics. Those people are decidedly not fun and I don't want to hang out with them. What's the ratio of hymns or patriotic music to rock music? I know a ridiculous amount of hymns despite the fact that I have not regularly attended mass since 1998. One of my friends told me recently that she had the song "Home On the Range" in her head and remembered all the words to it. I remember the song but only as performed as "Glee Club Rehearsal" in the musical You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. I don't know all the lyrics to "Home On the Range" but I know all of the dialogue to this part of the musical. I'm going to go ahead and count this anyway because I can.

According to an informal poll I conducted on Facebook (clearly the most reliable source for conducting poll-based research) my friends know more song lyrics than any of them could even begin to count. I was treated to the opening "rap" from the New Kids on the Block holiday gem "Funky, Funky Christmas" because that's how my friends roll. I'm most impressed with the random things people shared: their knowledge of lyrics from songs from the 50s and 60s (or even the 1920s) despite not having been alive during the songs' popularity, one person likes to sing if they're alone in a elevator, everyone knows a ridiculous number of commercial jingles. The general consensus is that for most of us our brains are 99% song lyrics. This probably explains why I suck at math but know all the words to "Livin' On a Prayer."

I did a small amount of research on the topic: Science is apparently the answer to why we remember lyrics. And maybe a little history too. Apparently the ability to remember song lyrics and melodies is a lot like having a physical skill like hitting a tennis ball or a baseball; it's something we're wired to do. This type of memory is called "procedural memory" and also includes our ability to walk and talk and why we can remember how to do things we haven't done in years like ride a bike. Another thought around remembering song lyrics goes back to early human history and oral traditions for sharing stories and history with one another. This is why we have troubadours and raconteurs/raconteuses. Telling a story is easier for some people if they are able to sing the story. Makes sense to me.

I've talked about it before but lyrics are a big part of why I still buy albums and CDs and why I've kept so many of the cassette tapes I bought in my youth. It's not just because I'm nostalgic and wish I could spend more of my time browsing in places like Tower Records and Kemp Mill Music (sadly both gone). I like spending time looking at album art and the lyrics when they're included. Other than the scientific reasons for remembering lyrics, this probably why I remember so many. It's not just the sheer number of times I listen to a song that cements the lyrics in my head; it's spending time with the lyrics and the liner notes. In the rares times that I dance in public, I always enjoy myself more when I know the songs. The familiarity of the lyrics makes me feel more comfortable, more okay with the fact that I don't think I dance well.

As I venture out for tomorrow's Record Store Day, I am reminded of this bit of dialogue from the movie Music & Lyrics:

Sophie: A melody is like seeing someone for the first time. The physical attraction. Sex.
Alex: I so get that.
Sophie: But then, as you get to know the person, that's the lyrics. Their story. Who they are underneath. It's the combination of the two that makes it magical.

That, my friends, is why I love music.

Tomorrow is Record Store Day! I'm making my way to Richmond to visit a few record stores and check out the GWAR Bar. More to come before the end of the weekend!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The UT Recipes: Strawberry Graham Cracker Cake

Back in March I shared my discovery of an old recipe book at an Austin vintage store. In the first post, I made Pistachio Swirl cake (huge hit) and Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies (good but maybe not something I make again right away). I asked for votes as to which recipe I would make next. Since there was no clear winner, I've decided to make all of the other recipes over the course of the next few months. April's recipe: Strawberry Graham Cracker Cake.

This is one of those recipes I assumed would be easy to make. When I first glanced at the recipe, it looked like everything was in order and it would be quick and simple to knock this one out. Upon closer inspection, several "challenges" immediately presented themselves:
  1. In the cake recipe, there is an ingredient missing. It says (in very neat handwriting) "1 teaspoon" but then it's blank. 
  2. The frosting recipe is missing measurements.
  3. There are no strawberries anywhere but in the title of the recipe. They're not listed as ingredients nor are they listed in the instructions of the either the cake or frosting recipe.
Since I bake cakes often enough, I'm pretty sure that I know the solutions to these challenges: the mystery ingredient is probably vanilla, the measurements are cups, and the strawberries are meant to be decorative. Since I like baking for its preciseness, I decided to do some research to confirm my solutions before starting the cake. Graham cracker cakes were a popular dessert in the late 1960s/early 1970s so I was able to find references to recipes that might have inspired the one in the UT Book. Several graham cracker cake recipes (after shifting through hundreds of no-bake and pie recipes) supported my thought that the missing cake ingredient was either vanilla. This recipe is closest to the UT Book recipe so I've decided vanilla is my mystery ingredient. My mother also shared my grandmother's recipe with me; it's her favorite cake but I don't believe I've ever tried it before. It's different from the UT Book recipe since there's flour and shortening in it. It does include vanilla so even though it's not similar it does support my vanilla theory. Now that I have it, I plan to try it at some point in the future too.

As for the frosting, I found lots of whipped cream frosting recipes including one from my own recipe book and they're all pretty similar; ultimately it depends on how "sturdy" you want your frosting. Whipped cream frosting is fairly light and airy (like whipped cream) but it melts quickly and has to be refrigerated until the point of serving. I decided to combine the UT Book recipe with a recipe I found online for a sturdier frosting since I took the cake into work. I like cream cheese based frostings; they're easier to work with and add a layer of flavor that I find complimentary to most cakes.

Final challenge: the strawberries. In looking through recipes for no-bake and pies that use graham crackers, it's pretty clear that the strawberries are for decoration or layering. I decided to incorporate the strawberries into the frosting and use sliced strawberries for the decoration. I'm not a huge improviser when it comes to baking (that's why I like it so much) but I think my choices with the strawberries were the correct ones to make.

Recipe-wise, this one is pretty easy. The "hardest" part of it was crushing the graham crackers; I could have used my food processor to complete this task but crushing them with a meat tenderizer was way more satisfying. Rage baking is a thing after all. I opted to make the cake into two 8 inch pans versus the 4 the UT recipes called four. I don't think such thin cakes would have held up. This created a denser cake but was more in line with the "modern" interpretations of the recipe I found online. The frosting was a breeze to make and delicious. It would be great over angel food cake or something equally as light. I don't know that the vanilla made a difference. There was a hint of vanilla flavor in the finished product but it's difficult to say if that was the extract or the vanilla used in the graham crackers themselves.

My co-workers had pretty consistent reactions to the cake: it's not bad but it's not something they'd think to make or request again. One suggested more graham crackers; she didn't feel it was graham-y enough. Several commented on how dense the cake was but also how airy it actually tasted so that's kind of fun. Jordana would like me to make it again but as a s'mores cake - the filling would be marshmallow fluff and the icing would be chocolate or fudge. This is definitely a possibility. A few people were not pleased with the inclusion of cream cheese in the frosting BUT admitted they really couldn't tell once they tried it. The strawberries were a hit both in the frosting and as decoration. We're all still trying to figure out why the name of the recipe included strawberries but there were zero strawberries in the actual recipe. Somethings will remain a mystery with these recipes.

Overall score for this recipe: B+

I'd make it again but not in the current format and probably only if someone requested it. I'm more inclined to try my grandmother's recipe than return to this one. However, if you want to get out some aggression beat up some graham crackers with a meat tenderizer. You'll feel better when you're done.

May's UT Recipe post will feature a pretty controversial ingredient: tomato soup. In a cake. I have no idea how this one will go but I can't wait to find out. Coming to the Island in mid-May!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Short Story Hour: Him/Her

(Short Story Hour is inspired by a recent Metro trip I experienced. It is a work of fiction including the fact that in the actual bouquet there were buttercups not peonies. Enjoy!)


White flowers. This week it’s white flowers. Last week was yellow and the week before blue. The bouquet, he guessed that was the right term, was always monochromatic but never the same flowers. He could occasionally make out what one or two of the flowers were; a rose here, a daisy there. Most of the time the flowers were foreign to him, a bit exotic or just not something you’d see at a grocery store florist (his sole experience with flowers). The flowers didn't seem unusual to her, like it was normal for her to have them. He could tell she enjoyed them.

The woman got on the train at the same stop, at the same time, at the same door every Sunday. She sat on a bench facing the rest of the car rather than facing in the direction the train was going. He was never able to sit that way; it made him nauseous. She dressed nicely, as if she was coming from or going to work. Her look was professional but also quirky. She wore a lot of black and gray but always a color or bold pattern somewhere. Today it was purple polka dot tights. He noticed her for the first time five weeks ago. The flowers, purple that week, had caught his eye. The colors ranged from lavender to lilac to mauve and violet. One flower looked almost black. She had been wearing all black that day and the flowers were a dramatic contrast to her look. She sat on the bench facing the train, facing him, closest to the front of the car. He thought her seat choice was bold too, like she wanted people to notice the flowers but not the flower carrier. She looked out the window for most of the trip. She got off the train at Clarendon, glancing his way for a split second before disappearing into the crowd.

Since that day he looked for her. His Sunday trip to visit his parents in the Virginia suburbs was more interesting if he had someone to look forward to seeing. He was also a creature of habit when it came to the Metro. He rode in the same car and sat in the same seat every Sunday. As the train pulled up to Metro Center he looked for her on the platform. He always saw the flowers first; the color jumped from the darkness of the train station.

The white flowers today stood out even more than past bouquets. They looked clean and fresh in stark contrast to the griminess of the Metro. Where did the flowers come from? They never “matched” so he couldn’t quite figure out their origin. Did she work at a florist and bring home odds and ends that didn’t make it into arrangements? Did she "steal" the flowers off tables or from arrangements in public spaces? That last idea was harder to believe since the flowers were all in the same color family. Maybe she worked at a hotel or some other venue for weddings or fancy parties. He hoped it wasn’t a funeral home or something equally morbid. That would make for an interesting conversation if they ever spoke to one another. Or maybe she had brunch with someone every Sunday and he/she brought flowers. He wondered where she went with her flowers once she got off the train. Did she keep them for herself or give them away? Did she keep them at home or take them to work? How long did cut flowers last?

He could see a hydrangea and one rose but he couldn’t tell what the other three flowers were. They looked like a rose but he didn’t think they were roses. He thought his mother had some similar flowers in her garden. He’d ask her for help on this one. His mother always knew the random flowers he described to her.

He wanted to talk to the woman but wasn’t sure it would go over so well. He didn’t want her to think he was a creeper or worse. He was a normal guy not some weirdo Metro rider. It was bound to happen since he rode the same train every week; he was going to see someone else on a similar schedule and wonder about them. That's how cities worked or so he believed. Rather than approach her, though, he observed and hoped he wasn’t too obvious.


The arrangement was white today. It absolutely floored her when she first saw it. The flowers were so beautiful, stark, and pristine against the marble desk. They were too much for a quiet Sunday afternoon at a museum. She was used to the beautiful museum setting and the leftover flowers being part of the scenery but something about these white flowers didn’t belong. Maybe it was that her favorite flower, the peony, had been hidden throughout the arrangement. At first she thought it was a white buttercup since they were in season in the later winter but upon further inspection, they were definitely peonies. They weren’t even in season right now. She could only guess how much those had cost. She couldn’t tell what type of peony it was; it looked like a Lady Orchid but she thought those were always pink. She’d look it up at when she got home.

She finished her shift at the information desk and picked her flowers from the arrangement. The guards insisted the volunteers take the flowers home; they were required to throw them away at the end of the day and it seemed sad and wasteful. She didn’t like to take too many; the other docents and volunteers deserved flowers too. She usually took five or six flowers depending on the arrangement. She likes to imagine what the wedding looked like based on the one remaining arrangement. Last night's must have been expensive, tasteful, and lovely. There was a leftover program that looked like it involved antique lace. Weddings were common at the museum but she had never experienced them five weeks in a row. That must be a record. She loved this “perk” of working at the museum; it made everyone’s day. Today’s arrangement was her favorite so far. The flowers were simple: hydrangea, roses, peonies, and stock. It was the simplicity that gave it such beauty.

She signed out and said goodbye to the guards. She was right on time to make her normal train. Then she’d see him. She looked forward to seeing him every Sunday. It was comforting not creepy. It was that feeling that occurs when familiar things or people appeared. She liked those moments best in her life. They made her feel connected in a city that often felt very disconnected.

She noticed him the first time she brought home flowers. He sat mid-way back facing in the direction the train was going. Maybe he was one of those people who had to sit facing that direction or else he’d get sick. She’d like to ask him but hadn’t decided how to go about it. She noticed him looking at the flowers that first time. He was intrigued by them; she could tell. Those first flowers had been purple and had photographed beautifully. She photographed all of the bouquets she brought home. She planned to include those in her upcoming portfolio review. Her flowers series was her favorite. She was tentatively calling it “Metro Flowers.”

He definitely watched her back. She never felt threatened by him; he wasn’t creepy or weird. She could tell. The flowers threw people off; they always stared at her. Maybe he was trying to to figure out where she got them. She suspected that’s what most people did when they saw her with the flowers. She guessed no one ever thought “museum wedding.” The mystery of the flowers made her happy.

Where was he going? He got on the train before her so she didn’t know where he got on the train and her stop was before his so she didn't know where his journey ended. Was he coming home work or going to it? People worked all the time in this town so either was a possibility. Maybe he was visiting someone. The train arrived on time. It was a gamble these days whether Metro would work. She saw a familiar green scarf about mid-way back facing the front of the train. Her favorite seat was available. The scent from the flowers made her think of places other than a Metro car. She settled into her seat and covertly watched. Maybe next weekend she’d talk to him.

This week: It's almost time for Record Store Day! I have a mid-week post planned focusing on fandom and then it's on to the Big Show - RSD. This year I'm taking the show on the road to Richmond to visit record stores and check out the GWAR Bar. Get ready for shenanigans and records - coming at you next weekend!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Lazy Movie Weekend: I'm so very Mary Tyler Moore

I'm in a very 1990s mood these days. I don't know why but I have this very strange desire to return to my teen years and the glory of the 90s. It was a simpler time. There were no smart phones or Facebook or whatever else the kids are using these days. Maybe it's because I'm staring at the end of my 30s (I'll be 37 in June) that I've become nostalgic in a rather maudlin way. That's just one theory; I'm open to others.

How lucky were we that so many amazing, amazingly awful, funny, random movies came out during the decade? This is the decade that gave us Singles, Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, Clueless, Braveheart, Fargo, Cruel Intentions, and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar to name a few. I watch To Wong Foo anytime it's on a random cable station because it's genius. It's where I got the phrase "What fresh hell is this" from; thank you Patrick Swayze. Of course it's also the decade also gave us Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney as Batman, the Ace Ventura movies, and Reality Bites. I want to like Reality Bites as an entire movie but I struggle with it a lot. It's like Ben Stiller didn't know if he wanted to make a story about Gen X or a crappy love story or both. His leads, Lelaina (Winona Ryder) and Troy (Ethan Hawke), are so tragically boring it's difficult to not want to smack them both during the movie; his hair is too long and needs to be washed and he's just so tortured; Matt Dillon and hell, Campbell Scott did tortured better in Singles.. Lelaina is so blah it kills me; doily dress aside. I don't care what happens to either of them.

However, Reality Bites introduced me to the great Janeane Garofalo and Steve Zahn. The movie that inspired us all to dance in gas station mini marts and shop at thrift stores also brought us Vickie and Sammy (Janeane and Steve), the true power couple of the film. The movie would have been so much better if Stiller had spent more time on both of these characters; their story arcs are more compelling and they're just more likeable than the other two. I'd love for someone to do a cut of this movie that's only about them. It's only Vickie and Sammy that really make this movie work for me. I know a big part of that is the actors themselves; I've enjoyed both of them in pretty much everything they've been in.
It made me happy that after this movie Garofalo would star in movies like The Truth About Cats & Dogs, Romy & Michele's High School Reunion, Copland, and Mystery Men. My favorite of her films is Wet, Hot American Summer. In some ways we are all Beth. I also appreciate her politics (she's a staunch feminist) and that she tends to play smart, funny, cynical, and awesome women. One of my friends recently called her my spirit animal. I'm not 22 so I don't refer to people that way but I get her point.

My second favorite of her movies is The MatchMaker, an often overlooked gem from 1997. It involves several of my favorite things: a smart female lead, Denis Leary swearing, Irish men, and awkward matchmaking. So grab pint of Guinness and let's gather round for The MatchMaker.
  • Do you remember when Denis Leary was in romantic comedies? Yeah, this is at the height of that period in his career. He's best when he's yelling and swearing so this movie is perfect.
  • "How could it be a personal call? I don't have a personal life!" We meet Marcy, trying to avoid Denis Leary and not be called into the Senator's office to do something she doesn't want to do. In this case, go to Ireland.
  • So a Boston politician wants to look for his Irish roots in a election season. This will go so well. 
  • Marcy arrives in Ireland, greeted by a mural of JFK. Throughout the entire rest of the film we'll be treated to random paintings of JFK in every home.
  • She makes her way to a town called Ballinagra which, of course, is hosting a matchmaking festival at the exact same time she's there. The town name is a reworking of the Irish 'Baile Na Gra' which means 'Town of Love'. Plot device!
  • The soundtrack! Every time I watch this movie all I want to do is listen to Irish music and mid-90s alt rock. You can take a look at the track list here. If you only know Shane MacGowan for "Fairytale of New York", this movie will give you a new song to love. Interestingly, the song "Haunted" was written for the film Sid & Nancy, a completely different love story than what we have here.
  • In addition to Denis Leary and Janeane Garofalo, the cast also features character actor and perpetual crossword clue, Milo O'Shea and Maria Doyle Kennedy from the greatest movie about Irish soul singers ever made, The Commitments.
  • Dermot's (O'Shea) videos: Dermot is one of the town's matchmakers and throughout the movie, there are little videos of him talking about how to find love and the art of matchmaking. These are some of my favorite parts of the movie. They also make me wonder why we don't rely on matchmakers anymore. Dermot has a lot of really good ideas.
  • One of Dermot's clients is an old man who cannot understand why he has to complete a questionnaire about himself. "Bollocks to my favorite color!" Later, there's a bit of dialogue about his favorite animal that's pretty funny.
  • The genealogy guy - he's Charlies grandpa in the Tim Burton version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • What is with tanning in English and Irish movies? It seems dangerous on so many levels. I get it, there's not a lot of sunshine and warmth but tanning? I don't understand.
  • Marcy sets out around town to try to find the Senator's family. She ends up with a pub full of single men who all think she's looking for a husband. Let's make fun of the tourist.
  • Marcy to Sean: "Your laughter is really irritating me." I may use this line from now on.
  • Senator McGlory to journalists: "I hate you all. When I'm President I'll have you all killed." (from the inside of his limo)
  • "Is being an idiot like being high all the time?" Another Marcy gem.
  • Of course there's a bet. It wouldn't be a rom-com if there weren't a bet. 
  • I like Dermot's theory about how a couple should get clunking heads out of the way early in their relationship. And then Marcy and Sean clunk heads. Foreshadowing.
  • The old man in the Aran Islands - this is the type of old person I aspire to be. Cranky, a little crazy, and weird but not scary.
  • Am I imagining things or did we have an obsession as a nation with all things Celtic in the 90s? I seem to remember Riverdance and Enya being super popular at this time. I assume that's why this movie even exists.
  •  My favorite exchange of the entire film: Sean: You could never live here. Marcy: What makes you say that? Sean: You're a big city kind o' girl. You're-you're Mary Tyler Moore. Marcy: Oh, yes. I am so very Mary Tyler Moore. Everyone says so. Sean: No, but you're- It's like you need to be hooked up to the city otherwise your batteries go flat. Marcy: Okay. So, I'm like a battery operated Mary Tyler Moore? If you flatter me any more I'm gonna have to toss your pale, Irish ass off the side of this boat. 
  • Things start to speed up very quickly after the Aran Islands: Marcy discovers Sean's almost ex-wife, the Senator and Denis Leary arrive, and we find out that genealogy guy has a computer. Let's make fun of the tourist.
  • Are all houses and businesses unlocked in Ireland? It seems unsafe.
  • The movie takes an unexpectedly sad turn towards the end. Dermot's death (this movie is almost 20 years old so shut it about spoilers) serves a "purpose" in the larger movie but it's still sad. I love that in his final moments, he's surrounded by all the happy couples he matched. He's surrounded by love.
  • Of course Sean's ex, Moira, is a Kennedy. Of course she is. And what could be better than a beautiful Irish woman named Moira Kennedy marrying a Boston senator in an election year?
  • Marcy rules. That's really all anyone needs to know. She gets stuff done, she tells Denis Leary what's what, and she gets the guy in the end without changing the things that are great about her. That's what I love most about Marcy; she learns about herself and improves but doesn't become someone else.
If watching this movie doesn't make you want to immediately book a ticket to Ireland, I don't know what's wrong with you. That was my reaction when I saw it in 1997 and that was my reaction when I re-watched it earlier this week. So if anyone needs me to go to Ireland during a matchmaking festival we don't know about and look for your possibly non-existent Irish relatives, give me a call. I'm willing to be that tourist for you.

I leave you with a little Shane MacGowan and Sinead O'Connor. Enjoy!

Coming soon to the Island: It's almost time for Record Store Day! This year I'm taking the show on the road to Richmond to visit record stores and check out the GWAR Bar. Get ready for shenanigans and records - coming at you in two weeks!