Saturday, August 16, 2014

Aren't there enough things to feel guilty about in the world?

I love The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

I bet you just judged me a little. Or a lot depending on your personal opinions on RHONJ or any of the Housewives shows. It's also possible that you let me off the hook for liking the show because you also know that Anna Karenina is my favorite novel. They cancel each other out in some form of socially acceptable judgmental math. 

It's possible that you too love the ladies of New Jersey especially since Dina Manzo is back this season which means more Grandma Wrinkles and great combinations of Zen-like phrases and shade. You're probably excited that someone else publicly admitted liking the show before you did. I'm going to hazard a guess that you're probably a firm believer in the concept of guilty pleasures and you only admit to liking a show like The Real Housewives of New Jersey if someone else does it first. Or maybe you're in the trust tree of happy hour and have had one more glass of whatever than you would normally have and you decide to bust out your best Melissa Gorga impression. There's absolutely no judgment here. I'm also going to take this opportunity to encourage the producers of RHONJ to institute the "trust tree of happy hour" on every episode.

I'm here to tell you that guilty pleasures are crap. It's a crap idea and we need to strike if from our vocabulary. If you're unfamiliar with the concept of a guilty pleasure, it's something that a person enjoys but feels guilty that they enjoy it because whatever it is (music, tv shows, movies, books, etc.) is somehow considered more lowbrow or are embarrassing. Guilty pleasures are often found in pop culture - the Housewives franchises, most reality tv shows, certain types of pop music, reading People magazine. Other people get their joy from making fun of you for your likes or maybe taking some form of joy in your embarrassment at liking whatever in the first place. The German term for this idea of joy at the expense of others is "schadenfreude" which sounds very unfun and serious.

This idea of implied guilt drives me absolutely crazy. I have never understood why I should feel guilty or embarrassed about liking certain tv shows, books, movies, or music. You don't have to like what I like and I don't have to like what you like but neither of us should feel guilty about liking what we like. I don't like Fifty Shades of Grey for a whole host of reasons but if you enjoyed reading it and plan to see the movie, just own that. Be okay with the fact that you like the book and enjoyed it. Owning what you enjoy is part of being the best you that you can be. Don't apologize for what makes you happy. There is enough unhappiness in the world why add more?

Which brings me to what I what I really want to talk about today - Sharknado 2. 

That's Pumpkin judging me. Because that's what cats do.
If you're a regular reader of the Island you may remember that I wrote two posts about the first Sharknado. You can read them here and here. No one was expecting the kind of reaction to Sharknado that actually occurred. The fact that a ridiculous movie like this took over Twitter when it originally aired was shocking. The SyFy channel appeals to a very specific fan and I have a feeling even the creators of the movie didn't anticipate it's popularity or the social media frenzy that occurred.

It is by no means a great or even particularly good movie but it's entertaining in its badness. So many improbable and bizarre things happen in this movie that you can't help but love it. I also happen to enjoy the unexpected use of a chainsaw towards the end - good stuff. The basic premise is that super tornadoes somehow suck up sharks into their funnel and then the sharks drop on the unsuspecting people below, killing them. Because science.

I missed out on the Twitter party during the first Sharknado. I was at a work event when it premiered and didn't get to watch the movie until a few days later. I was not disappointed in my experience. When I heard that SyFy was already planning a sequel, I was excited. Where would the sharknadoes hit next? And would America be prepared?

Sharknado 2: The Second One was pretty much everything I didn't know I wanted in a sequel to a ridiculous made for tv movie. I'm still astounded by the sheer number of celebrities that participated in this film. There are random musicians (Biz Markie is my favorite), original MTV VJs, Matt Lauer and Al Roker, an Osbourne, Pepa from Salt N Pepa, Robert Hayes, and two members of the cast of Independence Day. Judd Hirsch and Vivica A. Fox helped defeat aliens so I'm sure they're up to the task of taking care of some sharknadoes. Ian Ziering and Tara Reid are back, reprising their roles of Fin and April. Fin has become a national hero and April has written a book about how to survive a sharknado (I like what you did there movie makers). They're on their way to New York for a book tour and to visit Fin's sister and her incredibly awkward family (her husband is Mark McGrath from Sugar Ray - no joke). They don't even make it off the plane before the sharknadoes start again, April loses a hand, and Wil Wheaton (surprise!) dies. Also, Robert Hayes is the pilot. So many things happened in the first ten minutes of the movie it was almost hard to keep up.

Not only did I watch Sharknado 2 as it premiered but I also got to participate in the Twitter event which was so much fun that I want to do it all again. It just so happened that wonderful Neek Confessional, Jessica, joined Twitter just in time for us to watch it together (virtually). I really wanted to get #sharknadosurvivaltips going but that didn't happen (maybe with Sharknado 3 - yep, it's happening). My Twitter habits are typically limited to retweeting celebrities I follow and adorable cat videos. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed live tweeting the movie. I'm sure there are other more clever tweeters out there but I held my own. I'm particularly proud of my MC Hammer "Please Hammer Don't Hurt Em" reference in reply to a friend's query about the casting choice of Biz Markie. He suggested that MC Hammer would have been good too. People I don't know favorited and re-tweeted me. And we all need a little social media love every now and then.

My point with all of this is that millions of people participated in the viewing and tweeting of Sharknado 2. No one, at least to my knowledge, was mean to one another. People didn't act like jerkfaces just because they were behind their keyboards or tried to make people feel bad about enjoying Sharknado 2. The Internet love was strong; for two whole hours we all got along. This rarely happens in life. Let's relish in the harmony that SyFy brought to the world even if it was short-lived. Rarely does a day go by when I don't read about some horrible incident of online trolling so I like the fact that this event had none of that negativity.

I refuse to call this a "guilty pleasure" - I feel no guilt in genuinely having fun watching a ridiculous movie. I'm eagerly awaiting Sharknado 3. Please let it take place somewhere insane like Des Moines.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

This Is 35

When I was younger, I had a very specific image in my head of what my life would be like as an adult. I would be married, have children, be a famous costume designer, and have a dog named Albert. I wrote about this image a few years ago and my struggle to understand what it means to be an adult. When I was in my teens, I thought 25 was so old and 35 ancient. Age is pretty irrelevant; there are teenagers who are more adults than some of the people I see everyday and some "adults" that will always be 16. And that is my problem: where do I fit into this whole thing?

I hoped that when I turned 35 there would be some magical moment on my birthday where I would just get it. I would understand what I'm supposed to be doing in life and know that I am what I wanted to be when I grew up. That magical moment did not occur on my actual birthday BUT I did get to meet John Waters and learned that he had never been to an Outback Steakhouse until he started his hitchhiking book. New experiences happen at the weirdest moments. (Read his book Carsick - it's really funny.)

Flash forward to the Saturday following my birthday. I decided to have a birthday party this year since 35 is a milestone birthday (according to my mom). It was a bowling party. I love bowling. Any activity where you can combine junk food (snacks are important), beer, and special shoes is a success in my book. I was talking with one of my friends during the party about turning 35. She turned 35 in April and had a phenomenal roller skating party to celebrate. She told me that it took two months to adjust to the idea of being 35 (she was at two months) and I should report back when I came to my two month anniversary.

Well here we are. I have been 35 for two months. There's still been no magical moment of "This Is 35" but I have come to some realizations over the last two months about this whole adult thing. What better way to discuss than a list?
  • One of the greatest joys in life is having cereal for dinner. Frequently. I actually have cereal for dinner more now than ever before, including college. I'm not a huge fan of cooking (although I love to bake) and cooking for one is horrible. I end up having to eat the same thing for days or I freeze the leftovers and then promptly forget about them. My co-workers like to go out to lunch so I tend to have a big lunch anyway so cereal just makes more sense. Or I'm suddenly very European.
  • I excel at being a good rock and roll citizen. Old Lady Concert Rules are not just something my crankier self came up with because I hate fun and people. Peter Frampton has even entered the fray and taken drastic measures to make concerts a fun and safe space for all. If you can't respect Old Lady Concert Rules stay at home.
  • I am a feminist and you can deal with it. I know that feminist is a very loaded word for a lot of people. You need to get over it. As I've explained before, I believe in feminism in the way that I believe it was intended: the equality and full humanity of all women and men. I don't hate men (I love men) and I'm not here to tell you that your traditional values are terrible. But I don't like making less money than men for doing the same job OR having people (Congress, the Supreme Court, corporations, fundamentalist religious organizations, Fox News) make decisions about my body and my rights to make choices about my body OR the belief that I am less of a woman because I don't have a husband or children to take care of. Y'all, women are more than their wombs and we need to stop defining woman and womanhood in these terms. 
  • Let's all geek out together. I love that we live in a time where geekiness about anything is encouraged. The fandom sphere is vast and welcoming (except when Comic Con attendees are acting like total d-bags). Even if you haven't been reading Marvel Comics (or insert any book, tv show, or comic) since you learned to read, you can catch up and be part of the fun. Recently, I had a lengthy conversation with the intern working for my department this summer about comic books, the DC v. Marvel universe debate, the reboot of Red Sonja, and a female Thor. She and I also discussed feminism and Cat Woman. I love our intern; she gives me hope for the future. We have yet to discuss Guardians of the Galaxy but we'll get to it this week.
  • It's okay to hate the gym. I hate going to the gym. I've had some very negative gym experiences in my life and I don't feel the need to continue to repeat them. That doesn't mean that I don't care about my fitness and health. I got a FitBit in February, stopped drinking soda, and am much more aware of what I eat. Gyms aren't for everyone; the key is finding what you like to do and doing it. I walked 17,333 steps in one day two weeks ago and it was an exciting accomplishment.
  • Youths. I enjoy making fun of the youths as much as the next person. Guess what? They're making fun of us too. Not everyone under 30 is a terrible, self-absorbed millennial who doesn't understand the value of hard work and applying themselves. They're not all special snowflakes but neither am I so let's just work together in peace and harmony.
  • I like pineapple patterned sweaters. Personal style can be a challenge. I would consider my personal style somewhere between classic and slightly punk librarian. I like really bright colors and patterned sweaters (the pineapple sweater is a recent addition) and stripes. I like wedge heels and would kill for a pair of Doc Marten Mary Janes like I had in the late 90s. (Why didn't I keep those?) I don't understand women over the age of 8 who think rompers are attractive. I have come to terms with skinny jeans (I own exactly one pair and they are purple). I finally know what works for me and I have stopped trying to be a person I'm not because of fashion. Nina Garcia will probably never love what I wear but that's totally cool. 
  • Take a break and enjoy recess. No really, take a recess break. Even NPR did a story on the importance of play and having fun in adulthood. Having grown up responsibilities tends to make us all forget about having fun. Two Fridays ago, my brother and I spent the day at Kings Dominion and it was awesome. We rode all the roller coasters (some of them twice) and stopped at Sonic on the way home for slushies. It was a great day and it reminded me of the importance of taking a break. Have fun. Be a silly. Life's too short to be serious all the time.
  • Always take the bonus cupcake. I shouldn't have to explain this but I will anyway. When I bought a dozen cupcakes for my birthday party, the woman at the bakery gave me a bonus cupcake for my purchase. Of course I ate it and then ate another one at my party. We shouldn't deny ourselves the simple, good things in life. Sometimes you need a bonus cupcake and sometimes you need a new purse. Just follow Donna and Tom's advice and "treat yourself".

Two months in to being 35 and that's what I have figured out so far. Reality is way more fun than what I imagined as a youth. Let's do this, second half of my thirties!

Photos by me

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lazy Movie Weekend: Help Yourself to Some Coffee and Bars...and Murder

Confession: I was in a pageant when I was ten years old.

My family moved to Alabama from Wisconsin and I guess pageants were what ten year old girls did in Dothan, Alabama so I entered. I did not win but I did get a trophy for participation. I hate trophies for participation. Anyway, pageants didn't stick for me (shocker) but that didn't mean that I wasn't fascinated with them growing up. I, like most Americans, watched Miss America every year and rooted for Miss Michigan and Miss State We Lived In (Alabama, Louisiana, or Virginia). In Alabama, we also had Azalea Trail Maids and the Azalea Trail Queen. These girls would sit outside the houses along the Azalea Trail in the spring and serve as really pretty lawn ornaments. I'm sure the official description was more like "Hostesses of the Spring" or something equally as horrifying. However, when I was ten I thought they were glamorous and beautiful and the only thing to aspire to was to be an Azalea Trail Queen.

My aspirations have changed since then but that doesn't mean that I don't love a good pageant movie; made for tv movies about beauty queens in peril are phenomenal. The first Miss Congeniality is a triumph. But one pageant movie says everything we need it to say about beauty pageants, small towns, and why we do the things we do to succeed. That movie is Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Never heard of Drop Dead Gorgeous? I'm not surprised. The movie was released in 1999 (the same year as another amazing dark teen movie, Jawbreaker) and was a cinematic flop. But like most flops, it has gone on to become a cult movie. The write, Lona Williams, was a former pageant contestant from Rosemount, MN. She wrote a dark and hilarious movie about beauty pageants that was probably way ahead of its time. We hadn't yet seen the world of Toddlers & Tiaras when this movie came out. Maybe things would have been different for Drop Dead Gorgeous if we had. Or maybe it wouldn't be as glorious and magical as it is.

There is so much to talk about in this movie so let's get started. Grab yourself some coffee and bars and settle in for Drop Dead Gorgeous.
  • The movie is set up to be a documentary about the American Teen Princess Pageant. Much like the mockumentaries of the great Christopher Guest, Drop Dead Gorgeous is dark, odd, and hilarious. 
  • Adam West is the celebrity of note in the greatest opening video montage ever. The American Teen Princess Pageant recruitment video has everything - a great voice-over, Adam West, amazing music, and really old looking teenage girls.
  • "Iris, you taped your shows over it." Iris is Gladys's (Kirstie Alley) sidekick. She and Allison Janney practically steal this movie. You may recognize the actress, Mindy Sterling, from the Austin Powers movies.
  • Say what you will about Kirstie Alley but you can't deny that she is flawless in this movie. She nails the role of Gladys Leeman - I dare say she is the epitome of Minnesota nice. She has some of the best lines in the movie and you can tell she's slightly off from the minute you meet her. Also, she introduces us to coffee and bars within the first ten minutes of the movie.
  • Gladys: No, I think you boys are gonna find something a litle bit different here in Mount Rose. For one thing, we're all God-fearing folk, every last one of us. And you will not find a "back room" in our video store. No, no, that filth is better left to the sin cities. Iris: AKA Minneapolis St. Paul.
  • I can quote this entire movie and often do it with a fairly convincing Minnesota accent. Sometimes after I've watched this movie, I catch myself using this accent for no reason at all. "You'd think they'd have the parking lot of America to go with the Mall of America." (FUN FACT: The mall is actually the Eden Prairie Center not the Mall of America.)
  • Let's meet the contestants:
    • Leslie Miller - It's Amy Adams! This was Amy's film debut and she plays the cheerleader perfectly. She's funny and fun to watch. We all went to high school with Leslie Miller.
    • Amber Atkins - Kirsten Dunst is perfect for this role. She's got Amber's hopefulness and pluck down perfectly. I love her scenes with Ellen Barkin (her mom) and who didn't want to dress like her after seeing this movie?
    • Rebecca "Becky" Leeman - Denise Richards is also perfection as the town's mean girl and the "heir" to the crown. Gladys is her mom and she has some great lines too. "Jesus loves a winner" is a personal favorite.
    • Tess Weinhaus - I was probably the Tess Weinhaus of the pageant I was in; I'm totally cool with this. Memorable line, "They remade my belly with skin from my butt." (after she was mauled by a dog)
    • Lisa Swenson - Seeing Brittany Murphy always makes me sad. She's lovely as Lisa and is a genuinely good person. "It's just what you do" - her response when asked why she's in the pageant.
    • Molly Howard - you just have to watch the scenes with her adopted family. That is all.
    • Michelle Johnson - There has to be an actress. And of course she does a monologue from Solyent Green as her talent
    • Janelle Betz - I usually refer to her as ASL/Interpretive Dance Girl
    • Tammy Curry - star athlete, President of the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club, Becky's direct competition. She has to go.
  • One of my favorite things about this movie is all the odd side characters: the clueless mayor, the funeral director, Iona Hildebrandt (1945 winner now librarian), Chloris Klinghagen (the dance teacher), Brett Clemmens (the ill-fated love interest), Hank and Harold, the other judges (Jean is writer Lona Williams) - this is a town of awesome. We should all move here.
  •  Tammy Curry's out - her death is described as "odd and gross." At her funeral, we're introduced to the importance of jello salad in the grieving process.
  • The current Miss Mount Rose, Mary Johanson. The dark tone of this movie is one of the reasons that it was not widely received. Mary's part in the story, as the clearly anorexic current queen, is just one of the dark elements of the movie. Her performance at the pageant is hard to watch but also more of a commentary on the idea of beauty than most people probably want to face in a comedy.
  • Amber: "Guys get out of Mount Rose all the time on hockey scholarships... or prison." Amber wants to be the next Diane Sawyer and sees pageants as a way out of Mount Rose. Admirable.
  • Ellen Barkin and Allison Janney as Annette and Loretta - they are a perfect duo and should be in more movies together or perhaps a sitcom. I would watch them in anything as long as they were being as awesome as they are here. They're perfectly trailer park and it's so good. Annette is the perfect foil for Gladys; in fact they competed against each other for the American Teen Princess crown.
  • Iona: "Lutefisk is codfish that's been salted and soaked in lye for a week or so. It's best with lots of butter"
  • Has anyone ever been cow-tipping? It seems like an incredible waste of time even if you live in a farm town and there is literally nothing else to do.
  • More deaths - Amber at the funeral parlor is perfect (besides the tap dancing). There's also a fire - this movie has so much going on. "Ruined a brand new pair of Lee Press-ons." Annette's reaction to the fire at her trailer.
  • Amber: My mom never hid the fact that my dad chose his career over us. What was it she always said? Loretta: Once a carnie, always a carnie. Amber: Mom still cries when she sees a tilt-a-whirl or a fat lady in a tube top.
  • Best Gladys line and words to live by: American Teen Princesses do not cross their legs like streetwalkers. (to Leslie) Excuse me, Miss Penthouse '98, put your knees together. I could drive a boat show in there. 
  • Can you name and spell all 50 states? I'll give you a few minutes to try.
  • Finally it's pageant day! Another contestant has been lost, Amber's talent costume has gone missing, and Hank painted the ladders for the physical fitness number on the day of the pageant. Still, the show must go on. Some highlights:
    • Tess and the largest ball of twine in the opening number
    • Mary's lip sync performance is just too much
    • Becky's song and dance
    • Amber tap dances up a storm
    • Gladys and her culottes - "She had a big ass then and she's got a big ass now." 
  • Of course, we all know who's going to win. We've known that since we met Becky but it's fun to see the shock ripple through the crowd as she's crowned and the mayor sings an incredibly awkward song. 
  • The parade:
    • Small town parades are the best - from the Shriners to the old ladies with fake musical instruments to the militia families, everyone has a spot in the parade.
    • The giant swan float - "like a glistening lake"
    • The explosion is totally unexpected and leads to the greatest line in the movie, "The swan ate my baby!"
    • The collision of the COPS film crew and our film crew - great moment
  • Of course Gladys is the bad guy. The 90s gave us the Texas cheerleader mom case so why wouldn't Gladys be the responsible party? What's amazing about this event is that we still have more time left in the movie. What else could possibly happen?
  • It turns out lots - Amber is crowned Mount Rose American Teen Princess and goes to state. It's at state that Nora Dunn and Mo Gaffney make cameo appearances (that are epically awesome), Loretta gets lucky, and a freak food poisoning accident (or was it an accident?) sends Amber to nationals.
  • Question: what do you think happens to cameras that are used during movies? Loretta and Annette both use disposable cameras. Do they have real film in them and what happens to the film? I bet there are some great photos from this movie.
  • Does anyone else wonder why nationals didn't contribute any money to the state competition? Didn't any think to contact Sarah Rose Cosmetics to see what was going on? It would have saved lives if you think about it.
  • Joan Jett's version of "Love is All Around" - perfect way to end the movie as we learn the fates of many of the contestants (who survived). Sometimes it pays to be at the right place at the right time.
There is so much more I could have covered but really, you should just watch it for yourself. I recommend baking up some delicious bars to get the full experience. I posted two of my favorite recipes for you to try.

I leave you with the wonderful words of Loretta, just in case you ever doubt something in your life:

Loretta: You are a good person. Good things happen to good people.
Amber: Really?
Loretta: No. It's pure bullshit, sweetie. You're lucky as hell, so you might as well enjoy it.

Quotes from IMDB

These are the bars you're looking for...

In honor of this weekend's Lazy Movie Weekend post, I'm sharing two of my favorite bar recipes. Call them what you will - dessert bars, cookie bars, squares - no matter the name, they're delicious. As portrayed in Drop Dead Gorgeous, bars are the perfect dessert for any occasion; American Teen Princess Pageant sign up day, funerals, awkward moments in the gym with the wrestling team, and right before your daughter meets her fate on a glistening swan float. Bars are the answer to all of our problems.

I like to call my two recipes "classic" bars - nothing showy (just like our physical fitness outfits). The recipes have similar bases but are slightly different so don't go crazy and make them the same way.

Butterscotch Pecan Bars
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-11 oz package butterscotch chips
1 cup chopped pecans (technically optional but they really do enhance the bar flavor)

Preheat over to 350. Grease a 13x9x2 baking pan.

Beat butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in a large bowl until creamy. Add eggs, beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in butterscotch chips and pecans. Spread into prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown and the center is set. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Makes about 24 bars (depending on how large you cut them.

The Only Chocolate Chip Bars You'll Ever Need to Make (I need a shorter name)
2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1-12 oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (optional; I prefer walnuts with chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 15x10 jelly roll pan*.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in a larger mixer bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Gradually add in the flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts. Spread into prepared pan.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Makes about 4 dozen bars.

*A jelly roll pan is similar to a cookie sheet except that the sides of the pan are usually an inch high so the pan is designed for baking sheet cakes and sponge cakes. These work really well for bars recipes too.

Waiting patiently to be cut - my apartment smells like butterscotch and chocolate.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Return of the Old Lady Concert Rules

There is nothing I like more than going to summer concerts. There's something about listening to music, usually outdoors, on a warm summer evening that makes me feel young and invincible. I remember my first outdoor concert was Huey Lewis & the News one summer in Detroit when I was 12 or 13. I even remember wearing these really ridiculous earrings to that concert. I have no idea why it was important that I wear them but I know it was a big deal. Anyway, I don't remember much else about that concert except that I got to stay up late and hang out with my older brother. Ever since that show, I've made a habit of seeing several shows over the summer months and this summer is no exception.

This year's lineup:
  • Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (July 23 at Constitution Hall)
  • KISS & Def Leppard (July 25 at Jiffy Lube Live)
  • Heart (July 29 at Wolf Trap)
  • Santana & Rod Stewart (August 19 at the Verizon Center)
  • Motely Crue & Alice Cooper (August 22 at Jiffy Lube Live)
It's sort of a random group of concerts but in my head it makes absolute sense. I'm hoping that KISS plays this song although I'm sure they won't.

I have two go-to concert buddies: my brother, Scott and my friend, Anita. I've gone to many concerts with them both over the years including the time all three of us went to see They Might Be Giants at Ram's Head in Baltimore. They're both ideal concert buddies in that they'll go to just about any concert if asked even if they're not familiar with the band. Scott had never even heard of The Decemberists prior to seeing them with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra a few years ago. He liked them enough to go see them with me again the following year. And Anita - she knows exactly four songs by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds but is going to see them with me on Wednesday anyway. I'm hopeful that she'll enjoy the band as much as I do.

What makes Scott and Anita exceptional concert buddies is their adherence to and support of my Old Lady Concert Rules. In fact, they've both helped to create some of these rules over the years. Just to be clear; just because I have concert rules does not mean that I am a killer of fun. I love fun and love concerts and the Rules help to ensure that we all do, in fact, have fun. Going to see live music is one of my favorite things to do and I enjoy it more when people around me aren't acting like morons or like we're sitting in their living room. Yes, we all enjoy live shows in our own ways but I feel like we need a social contract we can all agree to when we enter the arena or auditorium. That way, we all have fun and no one gets punched in the throat.

So in the interest of fun, let's review the Old Lady Concert Rules.
  1. Don't wear the shirt of the band you're going to see. Don't be that guy. (Thank you Jeremy Piven in PCU for this one.)
  2. No large bags or backpacks in the pit or other standing room shows. I get that in DC most of us come from work to shows during the week but do you really need that backpack while standing at the 9:30 Club? Doesn't your office allow you to lock up your laptop or something? I'm pretty short so your backpack and my face are probably at the same level so if you do have to bring it at least be aware of the people around you when you're dancing or whatever.
  3. I don't like to stand at concerts. This is why I buy seats whenever possible. I don't sit on the lawn and I don't buy tickets in the pit when there are perfectly good seats to be had. If you also spent the money for a seat, SIT IN IT. Unless every other human in the arena is standing, sit down.
  4. More pit/standing room etiquette: If you are late, stay to the back of the room. I got here at a reasonable time to get close to the stage and you should have too. This is especially jerky if the show has already started and you're elbowing your way to the front with your stupid backpack. Don't tell me your friend is at the front; she's not. You're lying. Show me your friend and I'll let you pass as long as I have confirmation that you know the person you've sort of gestured at. 
  5. Someone has to be the DD for most shows. If you are that friend, congratulations you are a genuinely good person. I hope your friends do you a solid and take their turns at some point. However, being the DD isn't just about driving and making sure they get home safely. You have now been elected the babysitter of the group. I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this but it's true. So when your dudes start spilling beer on people and generally being jerks in public, as the sober one, people are going to look to you to rein them in. It's not fair but know that you have a special place in concertgoer heaven reserved for you. 
  6. If you aren't the DD of your group and you've decided to imbibe at the show, please make sure to respect those around you by apologizing if you spill beer on them (especially in their hair - not that this has ever happened to me), know your limits (you don't need that fifth shot of Fireball and a beer chaser), and most importantly watch for stairs. Concerts don't need to end in a trip to the emergency room and a broken nose.
  7. Respect the space around you. Even at outdoor shows, it's still not Woodstock and most people aren't interested in your dancing and space invasion. Dance all you want and dance like no one is watching but be respectful of those around you who are also dancing like no one is watching.
  8. Don't use words like "merch" and "gig"- you're not with the band. And even if you are it makes you sound pretentious. 
  9. Let's keep our cell phone use to a minimum. I like taking pictures of the shows I go to see as much as the next person but I also like watching the show that I'm seeing. So get your pictures done, take a selfie or two, and then put it away. Cell phones and lighters are not the same thing.
  10. Don't yell "Freebird." It's not funny, the band doesn't appreciate it, and chances are the vast majority of the audience doesn't get the reference anyway (depending on the show).
  11. Control the volume of your voice. This is especially true when you're at indoor shows at smaller venues; your voice carries and we can all hear you during breaks or softer songs. Listen to The Velvet Underground Live at Max's Kansas City for the perfect example of why this is a terrible thing to do at shows. Even if you're famous.
  12. And finally, I get that I missed all the great music because it was all made before I was born or when I was small but you know what, these bands and musicians are still playing and we can watch them right now. And it's awesome that we can. Don't ruin that experience just because you think the band has "sold out" or has new members or whatever. Remember what it was like the first time you saw that band and let people have their own version of that experience. 
There you have it - the Old Lady Concert Rules. None of these rules are difficult or impede on your fun.Y'all know I like being a good citizen so these rules are just an extension of my love of civil societies and being nice to one another. That's it - I'm not here to ruin your fun.

I leave you with the immortal words of AC/DC. Get out there and be a good rock and roll citizen!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Short Story Hour: Pickles and the Cabinet of Doom, Part II

Read Part I of this Pickles adventure.

A few days later

Pickles watched her human get ready for work. Over the last several days, Pickles noticed that her human had stopped leaving things out on tables and counters. There was less stuff for her to knock over as she continued her battle with the bathroom cabinet. Since the first day, Pickles had continued to knock things over when she wasn’t able to get the door open. Yesterday she added unrolling a roll of toilet paper. Her human had been so angry that she wouldn’t let Pickles into the bathroom when she was taking a shower this morning. The nerve.

Her human left with a curt goodbye, a reminder to behave (which sounded like weird meows to Pickles), and a slam of the front door. Pickles was left on her own. Since setting the goal of getting into the cabinet, she had adjusted her daily schedule. There was less napping and sun patch time and more staring at the cabinet door time. She had made no progress in opening the door; every time she got her paw under the door it wouldn’t budge. Something was keeping her from getting the edge she needed.

As Pickles entered the bathroom, she was prepared for another day of staring and no progress towards her goal. She was surprised when she saw that the left side cabinet door was slightly open. Open enough for Pickles to get in. Her human must have left the door open! Pickles didn’t know what to do with herself. She had been dreaming of this moment for weeks and it was finally coming true. Pickles took a moment to savor this small victory. She wasn’t sure what was on the other side of the door but she was finally going to find out.

With tentative steps, Pickles walked towards the open cabinet door. She could see that it was dark behind the door but had no fear; she had excellent eyesight in the dark. She approached the door slowly and with cautious excitement. She didn’t want to accidentally hit the door and close it. It might never open again.

Pickles pawed at the door and got it opened enough to slide into the cabinet. She had always been a lean cat and her petite size helped with squeezing into tight places. The door closed behind her with a soft click. Pickles was in the cabinet! She had made it!

And now she was in total darkness.

Cats have better nocturnal vision than humans but can’t see perfectly in total darkness. Pickles sat very still for a few minutes to let her eyes adjust to the abrupt change in light. She hadn’t anticipated the darkness. She wasn’t really sure what she had anticipated. Her eyes adjusted somewhat and she started to sniff around. There was also a funny smell; it reminded Pickles of those times when her human would tell her to get off the off the bathroom counter and then she’d wipe something on it. The counter was always slippery and smelled weird. Pickles assumed it was clean but all it really meant was that she had to roll around on it some more to mark it as hers. Being a cat was so much work. 

That was the smell in the cabinet. Pickles didn’t like it. The smell was ruining her under the cabinet adventure. No, she was not going to let that stupid smell ruin this. Pickles turned around and started sniffing the bottles and boxes. She found a plastic box and rubbed her face on the edge. She knocked some bottles over. That was all there was. Pickles had expected more and somewhere soft to nap. Pickles was disappointed. All that planning had led to this - a horrible smell and nothing to do. She couldn't believer her bad luck.

She walked back to the door and tried to get out. Whatever had kept her out for so long was now keeping her in. The door wouldn’t open; it would just pretend like it was going to open and then close again. She pushed on the door a few more times. She tried to get her paw underneath to keep the door open. None of it worked. She didn’t know what to do.

Pickles resigned herself to her fate. She would have to stay in here forever. She would never see her human again or cuddle on the couch. The birds would take over the ledge due to the lack of patrol. Her sun patch would fade into a mere shadow of itself. Her penguin toy, her most favorite toy, would be all alone. Pickles was trapped in the darkness with the smell of doom.

That evening

The first thing Amelia noticed when she came into the apartment was that Pickles didn’t run out to meet her. Amelia wasn’t entirely surprised; Pickles seemed to know that she was mad about the messes. The cat had been hiding a bit more since Amelia had last scolded her. The second thing Amelia noticed was that there were no messes today. Nothing had been pushed off a table. There were no bottles on the floor in the bathroom. One less thing she would have to clean up this evening.

Amelia went into the kitchen to fix dinner for Pickles and start on her own. Normally, the cat ran into kitchen the second a can of cat food was opened. But no Pickles. Amelia called out to the cat. No meows or anything. She grabbed the treat box from the top of the refrigerator; shaking the box was Amelia’s go-to way to get the cat out of her hiding place. She shook the box a few times. Still no Pickles.

“Pickles, where are you?” Amelia started looking in all of Pickles’s regular hiding places. She wasn’t under the bed or on top of the cable box. She wasn’t on top of the refrigerator or the cabinets in the kitchen. She couldn’t get into the cabinets under the kitchen sink and the door to the hallway closet wasn’t open. Amelia checked her bedroom closet next; no Pickles. There was no way the cat could have gotten out of the apartment. She had been perched on the window sill when Amelia left for work. No one had come into the apartment. There was no where else for her to go.

There had to be somewhere she hadn’t considered. The cabinets all had safety latches on them so they were secure. Pickles couldn’t have moved the board covering the hole between the kitchen cabinet walls. Just to be sure, Amelia climbed up on the counter to check. No Pickles. Panic was setting in. She sat quietly for a few minutes. Where else could Pickles be? Amelia ran through her mental list of all the places that Pickles could be.

The reality was that Pickles was here somewhere. She had to be. Amelia figured that if she gave the cat some time she would come out on her own especially if she got hungry. Amelia calmed herself down and went back to the kitchen to start making dinner. The cat was here she was just being a cat.

Under the cabinet
Pickles heard her human come home. She had spent the entire day laying in the corner of the dark, smelly cabinet. Occasionally, she would try to get out. Every time she failed. She heard her human calling her. She mustered her loudest meow but it sounded like a whisper. She tried a few times but her human clearly didn’t hear her.

She was starting to panic again. What if her human never found her? What if she really had to stay here forever?

No, she was going to get out of this. She was an industrious cat and was going figure a way out.

A little later
Normally when she cooked or baked, Amelia listened to music. Since she still hadn’t figured out where Pickles was, she kept the music off in case her little cat made noise and then she would be able to find where the cat was hiding. She was in the middle of chopping vegetables when she heard a whispered meow.

She put down her knife and dried her hands. Where was the meow coming from? She started in the living room listening, checking places as she went. She checked the cabinet in the entertainment center. She looked under the couch. She looked under the bed. She even opened the dresser drawers thinking the cat could have somehow wiggled in. She looked in her closet again. No Pickles. That brought her to the bathroom. As she got closer to the bathroom, the meows grew louder. The only place Pickles could be was under the cabinets. How could she have gotten under the cabinets?

Amelia opened the cabinet door and out ran Pickles. The cat weaved around her legs and meowed loudly. Amelia picked up the cat, “How did you get into the cabinet? Those latches were supposed to keep you out of the cabinets.” Had she left the door open this morning? She had been distracted this morning so it was possible she didn’t notice the latch didn’t catch. So it was her fault Pickles was missing. She would have to do a better job ensuring they were safely closed.

Pickles wiggled out of her human’s arms and made her way to her food. She was starving and ate everything in her bowl (a first for Pickles as she was of the “I ate five pieces now I have no food” school of eating). Her human returned to making her own dinner. Pickles stayed close by and avoided making eye contact with the bathroom cabinet. She felt that it was staring at her and laughing. The great adventure she had envisioned had been nothing but darkness and boredom. And fear. She had really believed that she would have to stay there forever with the smells and no soft things to lay on. It had been torture.

Amelia finished dinner and decided to start re-watching season five of Gilmore Girls. Pickles settled on her lap for a little while. The cat wanted lots of attention tonight. Amelia had a hard time being mad at Pickles; she was so freaking cute. The cat had avoided the bathroom since being let out, only darting in once to use her litter box. Amelia realized that today’s mishap had taught Pickles a lesson. Or she hoped it had taught Pickles a lesson. She was a cat and Amelia realized a long time ago that cats did whatever they pleased even if it was something that was dangerous. So maybe Pickles would try again; Amelia was hopeful that she would avoid the cabinets forever.

As episode two began, Pickles moved from her human’s lap to her favorite pillow on the couch. She was exhausted; she hadn’t really gotten a full 18 hours of sleep today. It had been too stressful to really nap under the sink. She flumped onto the pillow and fell into a deep sleep.

She couldn’t help herself when it came to taking pictures of Pickles. The cat was contorted into a weird sleeping position and looked adorable so Amelia snapped a picture and posted it on several of her social media accounts. The caption read: “A well deserved nap after facing the cabinet of doom. #adventuresofpicklesthecat”

The next morning
Pickles was on patrol. There were three birds outside and they kept landing on her window sill like they owned the place. Pickles couldn’t do much to them from inside but she kept an eye on them and occasionally batted at the window to make them fly away. They knew who was boss of this window. She planned to patrol for a little while longer and then it was sun patch time. Pickles loved a regimented schedule.

Her human was home today. Earlier she had brought out that horrible monster that made loud noises as it rolled across the carpets. Pickles stayed under the bed until it was done. She hated that thing. She ended her patrol and settled into her sun patch and reflected on the events of the previous day. By chance she had gotten into the one place she was not allowed to go and it had been a major disappointment. Now Pickles understood why her human shooed her away and kept those cabinets locked tight. Nothing good happened in the cabinets under the sink. She had to concede that maybe her human was right about this. She would try to be a good cat and stay out of trouble for awhile.

The thought quickly left her mind when she glanced up and realized something. She had never been on top of the very high bookcase in the living room. What would the world look like from such heights? How would she get to the top? There were many possibilities for climbing and jumping from other places in the room. She didn’t even consider how she would get back down; that was unimportant. Pickles began plotting her ascent to the top and her next adventure.

Cats never learn.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lazy Movie Weekend: This movie has everything

We live in a world where we have become used to the idea that our favorite fictional characters can be killed without warning and for no reason but that the creators of these characters seem to enjoy the agony that these deaths cause across the fandoms. I have still not come to terms with Buffy's mom's death and half expected a character to actually die in the film version of Much Ado About Nothing. That's how Joss Whedon rolls. Now that I've started watching Game of Thrones, I have decided not to care about any character. That way, I can't be sad when they die.

It's with this idea in mind that I began my first full viewing of the 1996 classic Independence Day in probably five years. I usually come in somewhere in the middle whenever it's on TBS for the four hundredth time during the month of July. The late 90s where an excellent time for action movies especially if you liked volcanoes, asteroids, and plots that only had one or two differences. Independence Day was unique-ish at least at the time. The movie is patriotic without being nationalistic and uplifting while still having some sad moments. The pace is quick so while you like the characters and empathize with them, you don't get attached. You expect that some of them are not going to make it and it's okay. When aliens are attempting to exterminate the human race causalities can't be avoided.

This movie has everything: explosions, science, aliens, Harry Connick, Jr., the White House, comedy, tacky dolphin jewelry, Robert Loggia, cute kids, Data from Next Generation. Everything.

So with a week left until Independence Day, toast some marshmallows and make a s'more or two and enjoy the most patriotic movie of the 1990s Independence Day.
  1. I don't know the last time I watched the movie from the beginning. I did not remember that the movie started on the moon. The entire invasion is obviously retribution for astronauts walking on the moon. Thanks Neil Armstrong.
  2. Excellent use of R.E.M's "It's the End of the World As We Know It". Do you remember when it was a badge of coolness to actually know all of the lyrics?
  3. Literally everyone is in this movie: the guy who plays the museum director in The Mummy (Erick Avari), Jim Piddock (from several Christopher Guest movies), the older daughter from Mrs. Doubtfire, the cute guy from Detroit Rock City oh and Will Smith, Robert Loggia, Bill Pullman, Mae Whitman, and Jeff Goldblum. And Harvey Fierstein.
  4. Bill Pullman is the President! I think we should all dream hard for a world where this is the truth. Lone Starr should be President.
  5. "Daddy let me watch Letterman." "Traitor." Mae Whitman is so adorable as the first child. 
  6. I've never reconciled the fact that the women in the film are pretty stereotypical: the graceful, smart First Lady, the uptight communications director, and the stripper with a heart of gold. Couldn't we have done a little better?
  7. If you didn't have a crush on Jeff Goldblum when this movie came out, you did after you saw it. He's nerdy and funny and still in love with his wife who happens to be the President's communications director. And he's nice to his dad and is an excellent chess player. Of course he also saves the day. No big thing.
  8. OMG Harvey Fierstein is in this movie! I forgot he was in this movie. We're only fifteen minutes in and if the movie ended right now, it would be worth it.
  9. Randy Quaid has built a career on playing idiots and this movie doesn't disappoint in that department (at least in the beginning). I like his character's story arc and his family. More on his alien abduction later on.
  10. I like the special effects in this movie. They're classic and wonderful and not overwhelming even when the monuments and significant American symbols are being destroyed.
  11. Mae Whitman doesn't actually cry in this movie but I feel like this movie was another great place for her to hone her crying skills. Don't believe me? Check out this Buzzfeed article on her epic cries.
  12. The pacing of this movie is one of my favorite parts of the experience. The run time clocks at 2:25 and the aliens make their first move 24 minutes into the movie. You'd think that you'd get bored but you don't the movie moves between the connected stories at an excellent pace and actually moves. I have been to more movies in the last 3 years that should be a good 45 minutes shorter than they are. We could learn a lot from ID.
  13. We finally meet our two doomed characters: the First Lady (Mary McDonnell) and Harry Connick, Jr.. You know that the First Lady is doomed in her delivery of the line "I love you" when the President tells her to come back home. Something bad is going to happen to her and it's okay. Not okay that she's doomed but okay because you have time to process that it will happen. Same for HCJ: he's comic relief that might interfere with Will Smith's mugging so he has to go. He does deliver one of my favorite lines, "You're never gonna get to fly on the space shuttle if you marry a stripper."
  14. Fun fact: the White House interior scenes were filmed on the set that was built for The American President. This is my dad's favorite movie (it's his You've Got Mail). It was also used for Mars Attacks!
  15. "You punched the President?" I love Judd Hirsch in this movie too. Literally, everyone is in this movie.
  16. If you're trying to disaster plan for alien invasions, move to Des Moines. L.A., New York, and DC will go first so move to Iowa. 
  17. Jasmine's dog is awesome. 
  18. So let's discuss Will Smith: this is the only Will Smith movie that I enjoy him in. He's one of those actors who annoys me because he has little to no range and yet is in every movie (or at least was in every movie). Ali and Six Degrees of Separation were pleasant surprises but everything else is terrible. He's smug and mugs the entire time. At least in this movie he plays a pilot so I expect the smugness. Like Tom Cruise, I never willingly go see Will Smith movies. I only saw the first Men in Black because I adore Tommy Lee Jones. I do enjoy him in this movie especially the scene where he's dragging the alien through the desert and talking to it. And his "Welcome to Earth" before punching the alien. Beyond that, Will Smith in a movie makes me irrational. I want to punch him in the face because than he would stop being so freaking smug.
  19. Jasmine (the amazing Vivica A. Fox) drives a huge truck through destroyed L.A. and finds the First Lady. Of course, Jasmine voted for the other guy.
  20. Y'all it's Adam Baldwin. This movie should have 100% more Adam Baldwin. Basically, there should be a movie within a movie just about Adam Baldwin's character. I would totally watch that. And never be bored.
  21. And then Data, I mean, Brent Spiner, appears as the creepiest scientist who is not really a bad guy. He's just lived at Area 51 (yes that Area 51) forever and is really into aliens. Of course, this isn't going to end well. Shady.
  22. Fun fact: the US military was originally on board to provide technical advisement on the film UNTIL it was revealed that part of the plot involved Area 51.
  23. "You just have to get through their technology." So basically getting to the actual alien is a lot like helping one of my clients navigate the internet?
  24. Helpful tip: Don't dissect an alien if you don't know if it's dead or not. Bad things will happen.
  25. You know what this movie could use? Harvey Keitel. I don't know what he'd do in this movie but I feel like he'd be really awesome in it. 
  26. The President tries to convince the alien that peace is the answer. The alien declines. Obviously the only answer is to have Adam Baldwin kill it.
  27. I like the four love stories in the movie: Connie and David, Jasmine and Will Smith, the President and First Lady, and Randy Quaid (Russell) and his family. They all make sense.
  28. I find it incredibly amusing that Houston is where they decide to launch a nuclear attack against the aliens. Houston - just let that sink in for a minute.
  29. Have I mentioned how much I love Jeff Goldblum in this movie? He figures out how to give the mothership a "cold" and saves the day again (this is the second time so far). Connie's comment, "Now he gets ambitious" is also perfect. 
  30. This is the greatest speech of all time:

31. And then he suits up and joins the other pilots on their mission. Because he's a former combat pilot and the best president ever.
32. "I picked a hell of day to quit drinking." Russell - the unexpected hero of this movie. Again another great story element to this movie. I like everyone. Except the aliens.
33. Did I mention that they use morse code as a way to communicate with armies around the world? Take that aliens wiping our our technology. We've got morse code.
34. "Didn't I promise you fireworks?" Will Smith ends it for us with a mildly smug comment while we watch alien ships burn. Thanks Will Smith. Just keep smoking that cigar.

And that's Jenga. (Bonus points if you get that movie reference.) There you have it - one of my favorite movies from 1996. I was still in high school and did not yet feel like suspending disbelief while watching movies was for the weak. If you just can't help yourself and need to question the believability of this movie, check out this video (courtesy of Jessica).

Poster image
Gratuitous Adam Baldwin photo