Saturday, August 30, 2014

Lazy Movie Weekend: This one time at camp...

It's official - summer is over. I'm ready for fall; pretty leaves, sweaters, candy corn, pumpkin spice lattes, online dating. Fall is a magical time that doesn't last long enough. That's why it needs to start now.

I would, however, be remiss if I did not give summer a proper send off. I never went to sleep away camp and I only went to day camp once (it was a theatre camp when I was in the 8th grade). I thank my parents everyday that they knew me well enough to never consider sending me into the woods with ill-equipped teenage camp counselors and some notion that I would enjoy being outdoors for long periods of time, playing sports, and generally being in close proximity to bugs. Instead, we spent most summers in Detroit (for at least a few weeks). I learned survival skills like how to eavesdrop on adults while they gossiped, how to make mud pies, the Chicken Dance (but only at Detroit Tigers games), and how to tell the difference between gunfire and fireworks. These are all skills I use to this day.

For me a successful summer (as a child/teen) included the following:
  • Finishing my summer reading list early so the librarian could recommend other books to me that were not necessarily age appropriate but were reading level appropriate for me
  • Taping songs off the radio
  • Watching a bunch of movies and in high school, re-watching The Stand miniseries at least once
  • Working at the theatre (this was also in high school)
  • Getting sunburned and being annoyed by it BUT not wanting to admit that I was at fault for not reapplying sunscreen
  • Going to a theme park (preferably Kings Dominion when the Wayne's World themed section still existed)
  • Staying in air conditioning as much as humanly possible
  • Eating Superman ice cream - it's a Michigan thing
If I ever decided to open my own camp I would include all of these things and focus on cabins designed for optimal reading comfort, crafts that include Lego art and unironic needlepoint, movie nights featuring movies I feel every child/teen should know, and lessons on how to be a good rock and roll citizens. Useful skills that the kids these days need to know.

Despite never going to camp, I love movies about camp. Ernest Goes to Camp, Camp, Meatballs, SpaceCamp, the Sleepaway Camp series, Camp Nowhere, Friday the 13th are some of my favorites. Camp seemed cool and fun and not as dirty as I imagined. And this brings me to the subject of today's Lazy Movie Weekend post, Wet Hot American Summer. 

Normally when I write about a movie on LMW, I want everyone to watch it immediately. While I do believe everyone should watch this movie, I will admit that it may not be for everyone. If you don't like absurd genre parody, this movie is not for you. If you don't like every camp movie trope squashed into one movie AND then either ignored or made fun of of, this movie is not for you. It's weird and while it may seem like a long form improv sketch it's actually completely two guys who are geniuses at improv and sketch comedy. A ton of really great actors are in the movie and most of them weren't famous at the time so it's a great opportunity to see them early in their careers.

With that in mind, let's gather round the campfire and settle in for Wet Hot American Summer.
  • The movie takes place on August 18, 1981 - the last day of camp. I didn't know but people celebrate WHAS day on this date. Maybe next year I'll celebrate too.
  • Every possible camp counselor stereotype is here: the stoner, the slutty girl, the couple who only are a couple at camp, the nerdy guy, the guy that brags about sleeping with all the girls but is actually a virgin, the genuinely nice guy who should get the girl but won't, and the cool guy.
  • If you love Janeane Garofalo than you do need to watch this movie. She's so hilarious and awkward and perfect. There are some moments in this movie when I think to myself, "I'm Beth. Beth is me." Sometimes at work I just randomly say, "You're in trouble" and expect nothing to happen. Just like Beth.
  • Paul Rudd is the literal worst in this movie but you can't help but love him to death and want to date Andy for the exact reasons that Katie is with him. I loved Rudd's description of Andy in "The Ultimate Oral History of Wet Hot American Summer" - "You just try and have fun within those parameters of douchebaggery and bandanna-ism."
  • Remember all of the information about astrophysics provided by David Hyde Pearce throughout the film. It will all be important later.
  • The indoor kids! These are my people! David Hyde Pearce's Henry actually calls them that when he makes his way back to camp to teach them about science and stuff. And save the day.
  • OMG Christopher Meloni! Imagine if you will a character that is the complete opposite of his character on SVU. He says the most bizarre things ("I'm going to go fondle my sweaters.") and has an epic monologue towards the end of the movie about being proud of who you are. Gene has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
  • "We're soul mates right?" Yes, Katie, you're camp soul mates.
  • Let's talk about Coop aka Michael Showalter. Showalter wrote the movie with director David Wain. He plays Coop, the camper turned counselor who is in love with Katie (unrequited of course). He also plays the Catskills comic at the talent show. He's so goofy and endearing. And weird. And inappropriate. I think this photo is Coop in a nutshell:
  • Amy Poehler is divine. There are so many priceless Susie moments in this movie: the "Hey you guys" at breakfast to drum up interest in the talent show, her pan-pipe playing at the commitment ceremony, and this quote to her drama kids that is perfect: "OK, stop. I feel like I'm watching regional theatre, you guys. God! Am I in the Cleveland Playhouse or something? Your craft is a muscle, you need to exercise it. Take a break; think about what you've done."
  • I had no idea that asking someone if they would like a piece of gum and then both chewing a piece of gum equals that you want to make out. I have been living my life incorrectly.
  • "It's your job to make sure kids don't drown." Camper to Andy after said camper's swimming buddy goes missing.
  • Ken Marino has the greatest hair and the shortest shorts. After you've watched him win this movie so hard, go online and catch up on Burning Love and Party Down. He was even in a Hallmark movie called Falling in Love with the Girl Next Door that isn't terrible.
  • We haven't talked about Bradley Cooper and Michael Ian Black. I don't want to ruin this particular part of the story for you. I sort of wish Bradley was in the movie more but he's excellent when he is. You should follow Michael Ian Black on Twitter if you like really inappropriate comedy.
  • And then there's Molly Shannon. That is all.
  • When Katie breaks Coop's heart, he and Gene and the other counselor that works in the kitchen go through an epic training so that Coop can be the best Coop he can be montage complete with inspirational music and dancing. You can watch it here. The hawk sound effect is my favorite part.
  •  Of course the talent show goes on as the camp is threatened with total obliteration by remnants of Skylab on its way into the Earth's atmosphere. The drama kids give a rousing performance of "Day by Day" (of course), the robot kid performs his talent, Coop sort of wins Katie over, and the indoor kids "save" the day with a plot that involves a twenty-sided D&D die. You know, exactly like that one time at camp.
With tearful goodbyes, campers and counselors leave Camp Firewood to return to Bethesda or New Jersey until next summer. Maybe in ten years they'll find themselves back at Camp Firewood at 9:30 (even though we said 9 and we should be on time). Maybe they'll find themselves on Netflix. Wherever they end up, you know it's going to be weird.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

On the road again...

Summer is basically over. I know we technically have a few more weeks left according to the calendar but here in the DMV, it's already getting cooler (damn summer polar vortex) and the kids are already starting back to school. School supplies are everywhere and I saw a display of candy corn at the grocery the other day.

When I joined the admissions staff of my alma mater in 2004, I began my career in work travel. Admissions counselors travel from mid-August to mid-November and again in the spring after reading season is over. I covered Nebraska, DC, Maryland, Virginia, and North-Central Louisiana so I earned a lot of frequent flyer miles and learned to love AM radio on the drives to Monroe and Shreveport. Since moving to the company I work for now (for eight years y'all), I have logged even more miles and hours in airports. I think I know a few things about traveling and how to prepare for weeks and months on the road.

In honor of travel season, I thought I'd offer my tips for making travel less horrible. Face it, work travel stops being fun the first time you're delayed and have to sleep in the airport. Or the hundredth time you spill coffee on yourself on your way to a school or meeting. Add your own tips to the comments!
  1. Make a packing list. I know you think you don't need to do this but you do. This is especially important if you are going to be gone for longer than one week. You need to plan outfits accordingly or make sure to account for dry cleaning or laundry services during your travels. My list also included items for the actual purpose of my trip: business cards, copies of presentations (if needed), banner, name tag. Making a list helps.
  2. Have two sets of all of your toiletries, medicine, chargers, and other accoutrements. I learned after my first trip that this is the only way to travel. You think that you're going to just throw in something you use the morning you leave but then you forget about it. Invest the money in two complete sets of makeup, other toiletries, medicine, chargers, hairbrushes, and anything else that you regularly need in a day. It's a bit of an investment up front but it will save you packing time and ultimately money in the long run. It's easier to keep track of what needs to be restocked or replaced if you do this. You can also keep the travel set in your preferred suitcase or overnight bag so your only packing is clothing. Two items to add to your kit: a Tide stick (or wipes) and binder clips. The Tide stick will come in handy (trust me) and the binder clips can be used for tons of stuff. My favorite: clipping the curtains together so no light comes in.
  3. Pack in a the same color family. This is especially important if you have to wear suits or more business professional clothes when traveling. If you bring the brown and the black suit, you have to bring the shoes to match. Don't do this. Pick one color family and accessorize appropriately. This cuts down on space in your bag and the number of things you bring that you ultimately won't wear anyway.
  4. Know the rules for whatever form of transportation you are taking. If you're new to traveling and don't know about TSA rules, read up on them. One of my biggest travel pet peeves is people who don't know about their liquids have to be in a quart size bag and that they have to take off their shoes to go through security. Do I agree with these rules? Not really but they exist and as a traveler you need to be aware of them. Same goes for policies on trains and what you're really signing in a rental car agreement. Literally everything is online these days so there's no reason not to be informed before you travel.
  5. You will experience a delay or cancellation at some point - Don't Panic! Delays are annoying and inevitable. Please don't be rude to the airline staff (even if they're being rude to you) and calm down. You will eventually make it to your destination and more than likely, you'll get something for your trouble. Make sure to check in and then go get a drink (alcoholic or otherwise).
  6. Bring something non-work related with you to occupy your time if you end up living in the airport. Did you know that the average American only reads four books a year? I read four books a month (and that's a slow month). Yes, you may need to use some of your time to do other work things but also make sure to bring something with you to allow yourself some decompression time. Books, knitting, your Netflix account - whatever works for you.
  7. Experience the cities you travel to as much as possible. I've had the good fortune to travel to some pretty fun and interesting places in my ten years on the road (and some creepy and horrible places too). If your schedule allows, do something that you can only do in that city or town. Go to a game, visit a museum, go to a local famous restaurant, see a play. The internet makes it so easy to find something to do wherever you're going so don't waste the opportunity.
  8. Embrace the chain restaurant. As a child of the suburbs I'm here to tell you that there is nothing wrong with chain restaurants. I also lived the majority of my life in New Orleans so I know that locally owned and operated restaurants are the best but sometimes all you need and want is a cheeseburger from Chili's or some breadsticks from the Olive Garden. You want the familiar because that's what we crave when we're away from home. Just do it; embrace the chain restaurant. And don't feel bad about it. I have an admissions counselor friend who used to plan trips around Cracker Barrel locations because there were no Cracker Barrels in his home state. That's how he got through travel season. Do what you have to do.
  9. But also make healthier food choices. And exercise. It's a lot easier now to eat healthier when you travel. Airports, restaurants, and even gas stations are getting on board with having lots of options when it comes to fresh food. Have a salad occasionally or some fruit. Don't eat fast food every day. Use the fitness center at your hotel or ask about trails around the area. Don't be a slug; it makes you more tired and less pleasant to be around.
  10. Embrace the Food Bed. Do you ever feel silly when you book a hotel room with double beds and you're the only person there? Don't. You've just been hotel-ing wrong. One bed is your Sleep Bed and the other bed is your Food Bed. Why eat dinner in the same bed you're going to sleep in? Do you want to smell like Chipotle first thing in the morning? You could also use your extra bed as a storage area and a work space if you want to separate work from sleep. 
  11. Invest in a great suitcase. Baggage fees are astronomical and ridiculous. Make sure you have one suitcase (with wheels) that will fit all of what you need for two weeks of travel. Mine version is purple BUT professional so it's easy to spot if I do have to gate check my bag.
  12. Postcards! I buy postcards when I travel. Sometimes I send them from my trip. Sometimes they come back with me and I send them at a later time. Or I use them for decorating my work cube. It's an inexpensive way to remember where I've traveled and I can use them to send people actual mail. Everyone loves getting actual mail.
It should go without saying (but I'm saying it anyway) that you should have fun when you travel even when it's for work. Today you're in sunny Omaha and tomorrow in snowy New Haven but at least you can say you've been there.

What did I miss? Anyone have other travel tips to share? Post them in the comments.

Next week on the Island: We say goodbye to summer by giving it the Lazy Movie Weekend treatment with a viewing of Wet Hot American Summer. I'll also unveil my plans to open a camp exclusively for indoor kids. You won't want to miss it!

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!